Preparing Kids For Summer Reading May 20 2010

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Summer Break is a time for sleeping in late, splashing in the pool, and relaxing in the sun. If you have kids in your life, however, you know it's not that simple.

Summer Break can be a chaotic time, especially as it wears into August. Kids become restless and bored, less likely to want to entertain themselves without the use of an electronic device.

Circumvent this process from playing out by setting up routines at the beginning of the summer. One of these valuable routines is Summer Reading.

Why Read Over Summer Break?

From a teacher's perspective, reading over the summer provides children the opportunity to keep their reading and comprehension skills sharp. The brain is like a muscle, and much of learning how to read is rote, like muscle memory. What happens if you don't exercise a muscle? My abdominals can tell you - the muscles in question atrophy, and it takes twice the amount of time to get them back into shape. This is the way it is with reading and other valuable cognitive and academic skills.

From a parent's perspective (one who loves to read), reading for pleasure gives kids a chance to enjoy reading. There's an important transition that needs to happen in each child's brain, one where reading is not just learning, struggling and memorizing, it's using skills they've learned to enter into the magic of a story. In addition, the link between reading and enjoyment is cyclical: The more they read, the more confident kids become with their reading abilities and skills. The more confident they are, the more kids read.

And from a busy parent's perspective, a Summer Reading routine provides a much needed break from overcrowded days. I use summertime to help my kids explore academic and athletic areas they don't have time to over the school year, like soccer and zoo camp. But all this running around wears me out, and all of us need to know that there will be quiet time at some point during each day to decompress. Reading is a great way to do that.

Where Do We Find Books?

The beauty of the local library is that it's FREE. Fill out a paper or an online form and get your library card. Make sure to have a regular spot in your home for the library books, and keep track of the due dates with your children, which helps teach them responsibility. Make a regular day and time to head to the library to turn in and check out books.

The library is a wonderful resource. However, I've found that I have a choice number of favorites that I like to read over and over again, and my kids show the same tendency, so I constantly look for low-priced books. If you're interested in building your own library of books, start with garage sales, where books are anywhere from $.10 to $1. Haunt your local thrift stores and second-hand bookstores, where prices cap at a couple of bucks per book. Then when your kids outgrow these, donate them to your local library, school or a family wanting to build up their own library!

Libraries and book stores offer many choices, and kids may still need help choosing books that are appropriate for their reading levels. Some children pick books that are too easy, and some choose books that are too difficult to read. I've taught my kids the "Five Finger Method" for choosing the right book for them. They need to pick a book, open to a page and start reading. Then I tell them to hold up a finger each time they come to a word they don't know. At the end of the page, if your child or student has zero or one finger up, the book is too easy. Five fingers up means the book is too hard. Two or three fingers up means it's just right!

Challenge and Reward

Children learn and retain more when they perceive that whatever they're doing is fun...make Summer Reading fun!

Before getting started, do an internet search for Summer Reading Rewards Programs - there are at least a dozen out there affiliated with local libraries, book stores and restaurants. Have your children choose their favorite programs and talk about the reading requirements and the rewards offered if they meet the requirements. Download and print the appropriate forms, and pay attention to the starting and ending dates of the programs if applicable. Hang the reading forms or calendars where your kids can access them - we tape ours to the outside of the pantry door - and mark what they need to each time they read during the day.

If you want to have your own challenge and rewards, use Carol's reproducible Bookmark and Reading Log and this Summer Reading Calendar. Make a goal for each day, week and/or month to meet - such as reading minutes or total number of books to read - and decide what the rewards will be when your kids meet the goal. If you want kids to put in a little more effort into Summer Reading, Carol has this great Book Box activity, along with a printable Book Report form for kids to use.

A little investment in a Summer Reading routine now will reap many rewards later, in the form of peaceful afternoons and strong, confident readers. If you want more encouragement and direction about children and reading, check out my Top 10 Ways to Get Kids Reading!