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Summer Rest, Relaxation and Reading: Getting Children and Teens to Read Independently

By Colette Coleman
 | Aug 02, 2016

ThinkstockPhotos-166669107_x300Although many students eagerly await summer as a time to move away from books, it’s actually the ideal time to move toward them. During these vacation months, young people have free time and choice, luxuries that open the door to exploration of the written word. However, after months in school of being told what to read and when, many kids are resistant to hitting the books. After more than a decade in education, I use certain practices to dissipate this resistance and get children reading.

Provide choice

Reading is often seen as a chore because students are asked to read about topics that don’t excite them. During the summer, allow kids to choose what they want to read. Kids who are typically reluctant readers often will become consumed by books on subjects they’re passionate about.

Layer in complexity

Help students to pursue their interests by suggesting they read a variety of texts and points of view on their preferred subject. Most curricula encourage students to compare and contrast readings and read paired text for good reason: This practice gives students a deeper understanding of a topic and builds their critical thinking skills. Over the summer, practice this widening of view with diverse text and a variety of media.

Think outside of the (book) box

Don’t limit summer reading goals to just books. For many students, magazine and newspaper articles are a great option to get started with daily reading and to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end, having learned something new. With shorter articles on topics they’re excited about, students may be willing to make the effort to read more challenging text.

Keep in mind that any reading is good reading

During the school year, students are told what to read as a class and often their independent reading choices are limited to their level. Allow for more freedom and fluidity over the summer. Comic books and graphic novels count. If your middle schooler wants to revisit his beloved Captain Underpants from elementary school, let him. Reading only elementary books all summer wouldn’t be a good idea, but one won’t hurt and still maintains the reading practice.

Add interaction

Although independent reading is necessarily a solitary activity, there are ways to make it social. Adults love book clubs as a forum to discuss what’s on their minds after a great read, and kids feel the same. To add in this social element and move themes and questions off the page, parents could read the same articles or books that their kids choose, so they could discuss the text together. Parents or teachers could organize in-person or online book/article groups to give kids some accountability for finishing reading by a certain date and to give them a chance to discuss their perspectives.

Add incentives

Intrinsic motivation is ideal and comes from providing choice, but extrinsic motivation helps, because there will be no grades and probably no due dates over the summer. Parents, teachers, or both can devise reward systems for their children and students, and many organizations sponsor free online summer reading contests and activities. ReadWorks, Zinc Learning Labs, and Newsela all offer summer reading programs in a variety of formats.

Make reading a habit

Most of us strive on structure when it comes to sticking with new or challenging activities. A reading practice is no different. Summer reading is easier when families set a regular no-screens reading time that ideally the whole family or at least one parent participates in. Just like with athletic training, you should start with a realistic goal and then add on as reading becomes more regular. Just like you wouldn’t ask a 3K runner to be ready for a marathon next week, don’t expect a child who is used to very little independent reading to start off with two hours a day. Be sure to set a goal that can be accomplished in the sweet spot of discomfort: not so much that the reader wants to give up, but enough that she’s growing.

Remember to have fun

All too often school and assigned reading are seen as drudgery with little real-world relevance to students. Summer independent reading should feel like the opposite! This opportunity to get kids reading what they’re interested in and what is relevant to them has the potential to completely shift their relationship with reading in the fall, so be sure to keep this in mind with positive, encouraging energy!

Colette Coleman PhotoColette Coleman graduated from Yale University and entered the world of education in 2005 as a middle school teacher in Los Angeles through Teach For America. She earned her master’s degree in education and taught at an international school in Indonesia. She then moved out of the classroom to support schools in the implementation of new education technology and is currently in New York City working as the Director of Community Engagement at Zinc Learning Labs, an online reading program for middle and high school students.


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