keeping summer reading fresh, fun, priority one

It’s true–summer can be a slippery slope of ‘un-learning’ if parents don’t play their cards right.

For so many of us, it’s easy to just send the kids out back in the yard or to throw on the ole telly to pass time between trips to the pool or beach. And don’t get me wrong, kids need a little bit of each. (And certainly their parents do too!)

But the reality is that it’s up to parents to keep our kids’ brains moving and bodies excited about learning even when temps outside make us want to melt.

Here are a few fun ways that we are trying to keep summer reading fresh, fun, and priority number one. It’s not even July yet, so keep in mind that some things we’ve done this summer, some we’ve done in the past, and some things are on our list to do. . .

We are:

  • Making a Habit Out of Reading: We move slower in the summer, no doubt, and daily until the end of July, Maddy and Owen have pre-team at the same time every day. So we do basically the same thing each morning.

We rock it out with our Everyday Name Books, we eat breakfast, and we spend about 30 minutes to an hour reading. Not the same way every day, but we read in some way, shape or form. And then we get suits on and walk, ride, or scoot up to the pool.

  • Making Reading F-U-N: We’ll try reading in microphones. We’ll revisit reading on video. We sometimes read in silly voices. We read to Brady or to dolls or to each other.
  • Keeping a Summer Reading Log:I am not a big fan of forcing an extension activity after every single book we read. But I do think kids find value in looking back and seeing a long list of books they’ve read over a period of a few weeks.

Maddy’s school has asked her to keep a running list of books read over the summer, and our library’s summer reading program has us doing the same thing.

So I devised my own Summer Reading Log that gives the kids biiiiig spaces for writing the book title and author and for either drawing a tiny picture from the book or jotting down a word or phrase about the book. The Summer Reading Log is here to download as a pdf if you’d like to use it yourself.

Owen’s Summer Book List

  • Finding ‘New’ Books: We are lucky to have a gazillion books in our house, and I really think we only read about 20% on a regular basis. So some days I send Maddy, Owen, and Cora on ‘hunts’ around our house for books we haven’t read in a long, long, time.

Sometimes I give them ten minutes to really sort though each other’s bookshelves or our living room or downstairs shelves, and other times, it’s a two-minute scramble for books. Any way we do it, they always find either an old fave or a new-again-for-us read.

  • Exploring Non-Books: Magazines, newspapers, comic books, poetry, greeting cards, anything with words is fare game when it comes to summer reading. We love pulling out an ‘old’ High Five, Highlights, or My Big Backyard, and my goal is to pick up a few easy comic books next time we hit the library. Owen loves the Sunday Comics, so I think he’d really appreciate a book full of comics, too.
Our playset is a fun place for the kids to read.
And check out our neighbors’ yards.

  • Reading in New Places: Whether it’s out back on a lounge chair or everyone on one person’s bed, if we mix up the reading location, usually the kids get a kick out of it. Some days we’ll spread out a picnic blanket on the living room floor or read inside an indoor tent or all squish up on one chair or read on the playset out back–anything to liven things up a bit.
  • Listening to Books on Tape: Perfect, in my opinion, for afternoon rest time or for a long car ride, books on tape still demonstrate for kiddos how fluent reading should sound, and it helps! Our library has tons of books available on CD, so Maddy, Owen, and Cora can all listen to their favorites.
  • “Collecting” Books: It seems like every kid I know has a tendency to want to ‘collect’, and my family is no exception. When children want to collect–and read–all of the books by their favorite author or subject, it’s awesome. There’s nothing like being able to say you’ve read an entire series or all of the books by one author.

Over here, we’ve been on dog kicks, Fancy Nancy kicks, and we’ve been on poetry kicks. This morning, we began a Little Animal kicks. I’m wondering what’s next. . .

Brady loves to hear books, chew on our toys, and sit on our blanket.

  • Reading but Not Reading: Book Walks are great ways for kids to move through books while practicing story control, language skills, and memory. There’s not a lot of reading involved here, since kiddos can literally talk their way through the pages of a book, but kids still look to the text for help when they need it.

The power of a Book Walk is not to be underestimated. Sometimes they’re great for longer books, for time crunches, or for just handing over the reins to an emerging reader.

  • Joining Others Who are Reading: Our library–and nearly every library in the country–runs a super summer reading program, and we are a part of it. There’s something cool about walking into “your” library and seeing your name along with many, many others who are all psyched about reading. Incentives–whether it be a bookmark, a freebie book, or an award at the end–don’t hurt, either.

Just this week, we registered Maddy for The Washington Post’s Kid Post Summer Book Club. Kids have to be 6-13 years old, and they’ll get a bookmark and their name in a special edition of the Kids Post at the end of the summer. FUN! (All you have to do is shoot an email to with ‘summer book club’ as the subject and your child’s name, age, address, and phone number.)

  • Making a Family Effort to Read: By setting aside family leisure time to read, kiddos are shown that reading is a pastime worth engaging in. Even if it’s just a few minutes each day–while I read the paper or (try) to finish my own Book Club book, when Maddy, Owen, and Cora see me read, they see reading for pleasure in a-c-t-i-o-n. Like the old saying goes, A family that reads together stays together. Right?

fyi on the summer slide:
Research shows that middle class students “gain a couple of months worth of achievement each summer” while “low-SES students lose an average of two or three months” essentially because low-SES students just don’t have the same access to books as their higher-SES counterparts (Stopping summer slide. (June 2010). Reading Today, 27(6), 1, 6, 7. These statements are really no surprise and show that we should all do what we can to support our reputable, local programs that provide summertime learning support for low-SES families.

However, I also know from reading research–and from my own classroom experience–that “too much forced follow-up or extension activities and too many must-do reading logs or reading journal activities can be over-kill. Dennis Kavanaugh’s commentary in Reading Today, “Let’s Stop Killing Reading”, argues against the “skill-drill-kill world” of reading instruction where students are turned into “computer or worksheet zombies”.

He advocates “self-selected, active reading on a consistent basis” as the best way “to raise test scores, teach habits that good readers have, and create a lifelong love for reading”. He’s not the only one who believes in this one-way, sure-fire ticket to reading success for students; he cites respected members of the reading research field–Richard Allington, Linda Gambrell, and Jim Cunningham–whose work proves this fact.

As a former high school English teacher, I can see both sides. Reading logs, journals, and extensions should, in theory, demonstrate a student’s understanding of a text and are more thought-provoking and personal than basic comprehension questions. But really, who wants to interrupt their reading with a forced activity at the end of every chapter? Not me.

So what does this mean for our little guys? Why am I mentioning all of this reading-research jargon when my own kiddos are 6, 4, and 3? Because what we do now counts. We, as parents, have the power to shape our little ones’ views on reading now–even when our kids are tiny, when they’re still toddling around or just beginning to sound out words.

By keeping summer reading–or anytime reading–fresh, fun, and top priority–we can help to support our own childrens’ reading and literacy development early on.
So let’s get reading, let’s keep it light, and let’s keep it above all, F-U-N!




  1. Jenny says

    I love all of your thoughts. (And my oldest son LOVES comic books; I actually never thought of getting the Sunday Comics for him. I'll have to have my mom save them for him.) I also really like the reading log you made. That makes perfect sense. Even my 10 year old has trouble writing in the little spaces provided on most reading logs. I'm going to print it off!

  2. Christy says

    Fantastic! We are doing a lot of reading around here.

    Just wondering – do you have specific easy reader books that you like? I find it frustrating that some level 1 readers are too easy for Collin and other level 1 readers are beyond his ability.

  3. Melissa King says

    Applause for advocating summer reading! Lots of terrific ideas here, but I'd like to add one more: If your pocketbook can afford it, consider an eBook, such as the Amazon Kindle or the Barnes and Noble Nook for your child/ren. A bit of new technology might be just the thing to "hook" an unmotivated reader this summer. And, you might find the eBook a wonderful addition to family-friendly activities.

  4. Sonja Essen says

    Reading is a big focus in our house as well this summer. My daughter has acquired quite a book collection…so much so that i had to remove a good portion of her books from her room as they were in a constant disarray. I put all the extra books in some boxes and moved them to a closet (i was reluctant to do this as i don't like to hide books away!) I call it "Kiera's Library." The cool thing is she can access her books anytime but she has to exchange a book for a new one. She really likes this idea. She has a greater appreciation for her books and is reading them more. Plus I don't have to deal with a constant mess!

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