It’s that time of year again! Beaches, amusement parks, long days, fireworks and … summer reading. For many kids, summer reading is a blight on an otherwise fantastic couple of months, but it's necessary to keep their skills intact. “Research shows that children who do not read over the summer regress and return to school in the new grade behind grade level standards and sometimes lower than where they left off in June,” says Kathryn Starke, a literacy specialist and children’s author. Your kid should read five books to prevent regression, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Use a little creativity and some fun to motivate your young student to read this summer.
- Create a book club. Set aside some time for your summer reader to chat with her friends on playdates about the books she's reading. You may be surprised at the effect other kids will have on her reading habits. They may hate the book together. Or one may love it and convince your child to love it too. Regardless of how it works out, the hope is that they engage with the book somehow. If you have a reluctant reader, don't call it a book club.
- Eat and speak. Bring the book to life with themed dinners or using the language in everyday speech. Make an elaborate fruit salad the way Rue from The Hunger Games might have done. For language, you don't have to go as far as to learn Elvish from Lord of the Rings, but you can do things like sing "Stargirl, Stargirl" during the day and remind your child that she has to read the book to figure out why you're doing it.
- Take sides. Some of the most epic rivalries have happened in print. The Team Jacob-Team Edward debate is not the only example. Find a conflict in the book and choose a side. If your kid ends up choosing the same side, you can bond over a shared literary enemy. If you disagree, you might find yourself in some heated (but stimulating) discussions about why you think the heroine would ever end up with him.
- Get online. BiblioNasium is like the kids’ version of Goodreads. It's a safe online space where kids and their peers talk about books. This free social network will let your reader expand her social network and learn about what her peers are reading. Plus, if she keeps reading, she could win awards and gift certificates.
- Take a trip. If your child is reading a book that is set in reality, take a trip to see the setting up close. The Princess Diaries is set in New York City. Shiloh takes place in the hills of West Virginia. Actually seeing and interacting with the setting of the book may add a new level of engagement. But don't limit yourself to tourist spots. A camping trip and a little imagination can also recreate Bridge to Terabithia or another magical book.
- Do movie night. Your child may want to skip the whole reading thing entirely and just rent the movie. With kids favorites like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Holes set for the big screen, it can be tempting. Instead, promise a celebratory movie night when she finishes the book. You can make a big production of it complete with popcorn, candy, Snuggies and whatever else you need to make for an enticing movie night.
- Encourage self-expression. The book reports that oftentimes accompany summer reading lists don’t work for everybody. Let her show that she understands the book in her own way. If she likes to draw, have her draw her favorite moment. Or maybe your budding actress would rather act out a scene from The Magic Tree House series. Go with whatever works to let her feel like she’s part of the reading experience.
- Turn up the heat. If your child needs a little more motivation to get the reading done, don’t be afraid to put a little pressure on her. Set deadlines throughout the summer. For example, if you decide that one book has to be done before the family vacation, she might be more inclined to read regularly. With young kids, it can also help to set up a reading time. Right before bath time, you and your reluctant reader can read together for 30 minutes.
- Bring it home. Even though most of A Wrinkle in Time and The Spiderwick Chronicles take place in a fantasy world, the characters most likely deal with issues your child has to face. Broken friendships, bullies, death and squabbles with parents are just a few common themes in books for kids. Bring these issues to light to begin a dialog. This can help make the book relevant to her life and motivate her to finish.
While the bulk of the responsibility of getting your child to read this summer may fall on your shoulders, you aren’t exactly alone. Your public library and local bookstore may have a summer reading program with fun incentives. Use other parents, librarians and the booklovers in your life to think of creative ways to get your kid motivated to read this summer.