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Foolproof Tips to Get Your Kids Reading This Summer

By KJ Dell'Antonia |

Reading on the Kindle app. (Recognize the book?)

Summer slide. That’s what they call it when kids’ skills slip over vacation, and teachers say they spend the first few weeks of every school year hauling their students back to where they were before the final bell rang. The number one recommendation for limiting the slippage isn’t workbooks with a page for ever day of summer break (we’ve tried those here, and most of them are around the house somewhere, with about nine pages complete). It’s reading. Reading anything, reading everything. Which sounds so easy…

Is there anyone out there who’s not trying to figure out how to get a kid to read more this summer? Bethany did a post on it yesterday, offering cute tips. I love the outdoor book nook–that would have had me reading in a second as a kid.

But everything had me reading in a second. I love to read. I spent my youth with my “head in a book,” and I even co-authored a book about reading with young children. I never expected to give the question of “reading enough” a thought when I had kids. I have put every book I loved, and plenty I didn’t, in front of my rising fourth grader and met with what can only be called supreme indifference. He’ll read, sure. But he’d rather do just about anything else.

So when I see something like the Chicago Tribune’s How to Get Kids Reading This Summer, I click. I’ll try anything. The problem is, I feel like I’ve already tried everything.

Should I be surprised that the Trib’s tips fell into the generic category? How about: get them books about things they’re interested in? A whole basket full of books about space and sports suggests that that one only works if you can find engaging, engrossing works of drama about hockey-playing astronauts. “Lead by example,” means reading in front of your kids. I’ve done this since I first mastered reading over the head of a nursing baby. Hasn’t helped (or if it has, it hasn’t helped much).

Bethany’s tips were better. I”m adapting the outdoor book one, and planning to inaugurate a weekly “read somewhere else” series. But I still feel like I need something more powerful than tips, like a sledgehammer. Circumstances fight me: I have two readers and two nons, and I”ve never succeeded in instituting a quiet reading time that the nons will observe,. Because my oldest strongly prefers to be where we all are, sending him away to read is destined for failure. I’ve also never really pulled together a regularly set scheduled reading time. Sometimes things come together, sometimes they don’t.

But read we must. (I hate that I even have to write that sentence.) To add to our ideas from yesterday, here are the five “tips” that this parent of a reluctant reader is trying out this summer–not from any one source–actually, one of them I’m pretty sure my neighbor just made up. No guarantees. But (all of a week into summer vacation) here’s what we’re trying at home:

  1. Do set goals. Do keep a chart. I’ve always been against this. Reading should be a pleasure and not a requirement–but I’ve found that a chart, with goals and rewards and the aim of getting some numbers on your board, gets my kid to sit down ans start turning pages. Getting started, when there are so many other tempting things to do, turned out to be half the battle.
  2. Make it cool. If you have a Kindle or an iPad, and especially if, as in our house, it’s a treasured and untouchable adult possession, let an older child read on it–and (if it’s an iPad) do nothing else.
  3. Embrace the comic book. Marvel comics can lead into Isaac Asimov. In our case, Tin Tin led to the Hardy Boys. Reading a graphic novel strenghtens the reading process, from the left-to-right eye movements to the mental connections between the different elements of the story. Don’t knock them.
  4. Bribery rocks. School, library and bookstore based book clubs are great for some kids (my rising first grader, a totally different kid than her brother, is very enamoured with keeping a formal list), but the reward of a book speaks more to kids who love books in the first place. My neighbor sat down with her girls and created their own book club, and the girls picked the rewards–a trip for ice cream, a mini golf outing, new silly bandz. I’m saving this one to start later this month, when early enthusiasm for summer reading has waned. And when I have time to make a chart.
  5. Writing counts. My son and one of his best friends will be writing a story over the summer, one “chapter” at a time. He writes one (already done) and we deliver the book for her to write the next and return it. Neither loves to write, but both are competitive and creative and prone to producing wild stories for each others’ entertainment. I have high hopes that they’ll drive each other towards some kind of ending for the tale of the three friends called by NASA into moon landing adventure.

As I said, I’d be lying if I told you that any of these ideas will get an unenthusiastic reader to pick up the books. It’s a little early to declare any of them a success. I’m hopeful–and I’m open. If any one out there has turned reluctance into reading pleasure (or at least turned reading into an activity that ranks higher on the list than “bouncing a ball randomly all over the house”) I’d love to hear more.

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About KJ Dell'Antonia


KJ Dell'Antonia

KJ Dell'Antonia is a regular contributor to Slate's DoubleX, a contributing editor for Kiwi Magazine and the co-author of Reading with Babies, Toddlers and Twos. She lives in New Hampshire with four kids, two dogs, one husband and a bad coffee habit and blogs about family bonds, balance, and blend at

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0 thoughts on “Foolproof Tips to Get Your Kids Reading This Summer

  1. johanna says:

    Recognize the book? A Wrinkle in Time, of course, one of my all time favorites!

  2. kittenpie says:

    I would add – play to your audience. Know that boys like silly, gross stuff, and read a lot more non-fiction than girls, as well as comic books and graphic novels. Even if they are learning to make slime or perform new card tricks, it’s good.

    Ask a librarian for help finding funny books, books about horses, whatever is going to interest your child. It goes a long way to helping make reading more engaging, even in the slump years, when reading goes down in kids overall for a while.

  3. LindaLou says:

    “Reading should be a pleasure and not a requirement”

    I agree with this in theory, however, it can’t be pleasure until the child is competent enough at it for it to be pleasure. That takes practice. I see nothing wrong with mandating 30 minutes of reading every day. I did this when my older kids were in early elementary school and it’s been a good long time since I’ve had anything to do with their reading.

  4. julie says:

    What really worked for my reluctant reader (just finished first grade) was giving him the choice of turning off the light at 8 or reading until 8:30 or 9. Worked AMAZINGLY well and he’s already finished a bunch of chapter books in the last month. His current choice is the series Secrets of Droon which is like Harry Potter jr.

  5. melsywelsy says:

    I find that reading the first few pages or chapter to my son will get him into the story so he will continue reading it on his own. Getting started is the main hurdle for him.

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