An Age-Old Battle and How to Win It: Keeping Kids Reading Over the Summer

Keep your kids reading this summer, regardless of their reading level, with these helpful tips and tricks from Dr. Steve Truch of The Reading Foundation!

Summer is typically a very busy time for most families with all the outdoor activities, camps, picnics and, of course, family holidays.

Making time for recreational reading is not much of a challenge if your child is already a reader because one of the hallmarks of a good reader is the fact that they like to read. Most of the time, strong readers are already into a book or two! Keep that momentum going by structuring some time during their busy days where they can just read. It doesn’t have to be the same time of the day every day, as children’s daily schedules can be so varied in the summer. There’s a good chance that a gentle reminder will not only encourage children to carry on with their reading but how much they enjoy it. And what better place to enjoy a book than out on the grass?

For those “in-betweeners” who don’t struggle with reading, but also don’t jump at the chance to read, plan a family trip to your local library where they can select books of their choice. Libraries, I find, are truly enriching environments. Your child will be surrounded by books, as they should be at home as well.

Notice I say “books.” I am not a fan of having kids read books on their electronic devices! The exception to that is when they have limited space to carry a lot of books around to a vacation spot. In those times, downloaded books make sense, especially if the book contains several hundred pages. Otherwise, stick to the “real thing” whenever you can.

Then there’s the tricky stuff. Parents of weaker readers often find themselves in a “catch 22” situation. It’s difficult to encourage or force weaker readers to read as they will find ways to avoid your efforts. You can certainly structure the time during their day for reading, but you might be on the losing end of a big battle.

Instead, ask yourself if there is a possible reason why your child resists spontaneously doing what is so obviously an enjoyable and important activity for you, as a parent, and for them, as students.

There’s a common misconception about summer reading all around the notion of using summer weather, places and spaces as an opportunity to integrate literacy. But it is typically not a matter of having children “practice, practice, practice” as you may be advised to do over the summer by many professionals. The process of reading may itself be difficult, and that may account, in large part, for your child’s resistance — not the distractions of summertime fun. Keep in mind that it’s difficult to practice what you don’t know how to do in the first place!

Resistance to reading usually stems from issues in 2 areas:

  1. Decoding, or word identification
  2. Comprehension

Here are some things to notice if your child is resisting reading:

The first and most obviously noticeable resistance comes from weak decodingDoes your child have difficulty sounding words out? With spelling? With remembering what the word is after having been “flash-carded” with it ad nauseam? Reading research in the last 30 years in particular, in particular, considerably, and there are some subtle and often undetected processes that are blocking your child’s reading in this all-important first step in becoming a strong reader.

In contrast to a child who is having trouble sounding words out is the one who can read and spell the words fluently, but who states that reading is “boring.” It may be that you just have to find some topic or book that captures their attention. Many times though, you will be on a rabbit chase that doesn’t create the end result you want. Again, there is often a very subtle reason why this kind of reader is avoiding reading. Explore whether or not your child is creating mental pictures while reading the book. The lack of mental imagery could be a prime reason why your child is “bored” with reading. This can be a tricky issue to diagnose, so you may have to leave it to a professional, as described next.  

If you are experiencing some of the issues above with your child, particularly over a long period of time, it’s very likely time to get a reading assessment from a professional who thoroughly understands the process of reading. For background reading, you should read Dr. David Kilpatrick’s book, Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties. It’s a bit technical, but it is the best summary of recent reading research anywhere.

The point to understand, even if you don’t read the book, is that teaching a struggling reader is rocket science and requires a very in-depth understanding of the reading process itself. Kids who acquire reading easily have accomplished something that is astonishingly complex!

You can rejoice if your child is one of these “self-taught” readers. But you need to seek well-informed professional assistance if your child is struggling. And the summer may be the time to use as a means of giving them the boost they need.

Enjoy the summer!

 

Dr. Steve Truch, founding director of The Reading Foundation, is a thought-leader in learning and literacy who has worked as both a teacher and a school psychologist. Find him at steve@readingfoundation.com.
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