Summer reading is a perennial rite of passage for school-age children. Some kids rush their parents to Barnes and Noble the moment their school’s list is released; others would prefer for that piece of paper to stay crushed in the bottom of a backpack. But whether they like it or not, students of every age find themselves assigned at least one required book—if not three or five or seven—to keep them company in the warmer months.
Summer reading, however, can be much more than a requisite slog through a classic novel. School summer reading programs are a valuable part of academic enrichment, and with a little exploration and planning, going beyond your child’s school’s summer reading requirements can be a fun and exciting process–one that will give your child an academic edge come fall. Below, you’ll find three strategies for helping students elevate their summer reading experiences at any age.
Children in elementary school are only just getting acquainted with the rules and conventions of academic reading and writing. Through their first book reports, essays, and other writing assignments, they’re coming to see that writing in school comes with some very specific requirements, and they’re beginning to learn how they themselves fit into the big world of reading and writing. Some students may find this foray into maturity intimidating; for others, it may simply be exciting. Either way, finding their own writing skills and voice is one of the biggest challenges facing this age group, and it’s a perfect theme to address through summer reading.
A number of children’s publications feature stories and articles written by children, and now’s the time to introduce your kids to such writing. Highlights Magazine, Time for Kids, and American Girl Magazine are just a few of the many publications that routinely feature content created by children (in addition, the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series welcomes stories by kids). Even if your children never choose to submit their own work to these publications—which they very well might!—seeing kids’ writing featured and celebrated will give them a sense of involvement in the writing world, and an understanding of how writing might fit into their own lives. Plus, it tends to be easy to get kids interested in the subjects that other kids choose to write about—and the more minutes they spend reading this summer, the better off they’ll be in the fall.
Middle School Readers
By the time students enter sixth or seventh grade, they’ve been through the mill of school-assigned novels and probably sucked down a fair few fictional reads of their own choosing. While younger children often enjoy reading about protagonists whose lives resemble their own, middle schoolers might crave a bit more adventure and a bit less familiarity. They’re growing more curious and informed about the adult world, and are eager to begin breaking free of their own small childhood worlds. That’s why middle school is a great time to introduce students to engaging nonfiction summer reading.
Because research-based academic work will become more important as kids move up through the grades in school, getting more acquainted with factual readings now can be great academic preparation. And with the abundant free time that summer offers, students are also able to explore subjects that intrigue them more deeply—by checking supplementary texts out of the library, visiting museums, or trying out activities for themselves (maybe, for example, they’ll read a book about a champion bicyclist and decide to spend more time biking themselves). Letting kids’ existing interests dictate their reading is often a good way to go, but exposing them to new subjects is just as important. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) has an award for great nonfiction for young adults, and their lists of past and present winners are a great resource for finding books that might suit your child. It’s also valuable to remember that summer reading can be about texts that serve many different purposes—for some students, a cookbook or a guide to building tree houses will encourage reading much more than a traditional biography or book of essays ever could.
Teenagers are routinely introduced to classic adult fiction in their high school English classrooms, and it’s likely that their required summer reading will contain much of the same. For this age group, novels written for adults are often the stuff of work rather than play, but many teenagers are also reaching the point at which they are eager to appreciate books that aren’t specifically geared toward the Young Adult demographic. For these precocious readers, summer reading is a great opportunity to become acquainted with the broad world of contemporary literary fiction. With the abundance of exciting, well-written fiction being published these days, there are plenty of opportunities to introduce your teenager to novels that are both entertaining and thought-provoking—novels that will help draw them into a lifetime of happy, engaged reading.
Of course, passing along novels that you’ve enjoyed is always a good rule of thumb, but if you’re looking for suggestions, turn again to the trusty YALSA and their innovative Alex Awards. The Alex Awards are presented annually to new books written for adults that “have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.” Last year’s winners include critical darlings such as Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, and all of the winners are sure to engage teenagers in contemporary literary trends and conversations—and prepare them for the literary rigors of college along the way. In case your own teenager is on the less precocious side, YALSA also publishes outstanding lists of “Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers,” which are a great starting place for finding accessible, often plot-driven books for teenage readers who might rather not read.
For every age group, the resources are practically limitless—all it takes is a bit of initiative and know-how to help your children make their summer reading a truly transformative experience.
By Hannah Sheldon-Dean, Private Tutor