Screen Free Summer Reading Tips for Children of ALL Ages

It’s summer time! Swimming, playing, sleeping in, and all things NO SCHOOL … until your child’s school publishes their summer reading requirements. Depending on the age and nature of your child, this could be a struggle. I get it. It’s summer break; why do we still have to do school work?! Well, the wheels in the brain need to keep turning. Reading is a skill that can always progress no matter the reader’s level; it’s an ability that continues to strengthen the more you do it, and during summer, it’s a learning strategy that your child can achieve on his own individual pace – no added pressure.

As a high school English teacher, I see the challenges on both students and parents when it comes to required summer reading. As a parent of beginner readers and non-readers, I, too, struggle with required work for my kids during summer. I’ve compiled some {mostly} non-digital, at-home, practices for summer reading ranging from beginning readers all the way to college prep readers (some easily applying to multiple age-groups). These are tips to encourage, motivate, and/or develop your reader’s ability and to, hopefully, make the required school work effort, a bit less challenging.

Beginning Readers:

Reading with your Finger – Reading stories to your non-reader with your index finger moving across the page as you read out loud will help him understand the concept of reading from left to right.

Charts – Kids love colors, visually seeing their improvement, and prizes. Creating a reading chart or finding a free printable online (there are plenty searchable and free options) is a great start to track your little one’s reading.

Book Bugs – This is a chart-like concept I created for my own kids last summer to keep them reading. Using bright and colorful card-stock, I simply cut out tons of little circles (and laminated them so I could use them again). For my readers (ages 5 and 7), they get a circle added to their book bug for every book they read. For my non-reader (3), she gets a circle added for every book she follows along with while listening to her ME-reader or every time someone reads her a book. For every 3rd circle earned, they receive a small prize (suckers, books, dollar-store toys, etc). You can totally customize something like this to fit your own little ones’ needs.

Family Reading – Little ones should be reading daily, if only for just 15 minutes. Setting time aside, right before bed, as a family, could make for not only an engaging reading practice but even a nice little tradition.

Modeling – This is probably the easiest and more effective reading strategy that I’ve discovered as a parent. During Quarantine, we had about 30 minutes of outside playtime every day after snack. While the kids played, I sat outside with my book. After a few days, my oldest started to do the same. He would pull his chair next to mine and read his novel beside me. Before I knew it, my second and third were doing the same thing. I never asked them to do this; I never verbally encouraged them to do so. “Playtime” suddenly turned into “Reading time.” We were easily getting our 15+ minutes of daily reading in without a fuss.

Make it Personal – I found that my oldest (7) really took off with reading on his own when we made it a bit more personal. The I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis has been a phenomenal read for him. It’s a series that documents historical events but through a child’s eyes such as Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and others. Showing him old pictures of his current house that was once destroyed by Katrina made the reading experience that much more personal and interesting to him. Also, showing him pictures and talking to him about my own experiences with 9/11 helped motivate him to continue reading the series. We killed so many educational birds with this one stone – it was amazing.

Making Predictions – Young readers who struggle with the desire to read might find the process a bit more interesting if they made/drew a prediction based purely on the cover of the book or the title. Have a conversation about what he thinks might happen — before, during, and after reading. Making predictions could make the “requirement” more of a fun activity. Anticipating the ending could motivate the young reader to turn the page and keep going. Maybe even offer a prize if the prediction was spot on.

The Library– Typically, the public libraries have plenty of resources and events that cater to little ones building their literacy skills; However, libraries still remain closed due to Covid-19 as of 6/2/20. But, the New Orleans public libraries are open for contactless pick-up and drop-off. Getting some brand new books could always spark interest.

Middle School:

Read the Book Together – When your child is assigned a novel or two to read and comprehend over the summer, it might help if you also get a copy of the novel to read with him. You can each agree to read a chapter or two at a time and then discuss it together. You can have your own personal book club at the breakfast table. This will help you to gauge your readers’ comprehension while also offering support for an activity he might not typically enjoy. Maybe even let him quiz you on the story giving him a bit of confidence in reading for correct answers.

Audio Books – This is such a great alternative, especially if your child struggles with reading. This shouldn’t necessarily replace reading all together, but following along in a book while the audio reads aloud helps the child visualize the scenarios and grasp a better understanding of the plot. I find this helps tremendously with children who might struggle with learning differences. The public library has plenty of options for audio books.

Recall and Draw – If you have a budding artist or just a child who needs to be more hands on, then this activity will help. After reading a chapter or a section of the book, have your child recall a scene to draw. This could be a favorite scene, a “significant” scene, a turning point, etc. You can have him hang them up, so he has his own plot points charted by the end of the novel.

High School:

Annotating – This is such an important strategy, not only for comprehending a novel, but also just good note-taking practice for anything he will ever have to read in any class. Underlining, highlighting, and note-taking in the margins will help your reader create his own personal thoughts, take a closer look at an important plot point, question the author, or serve as a reminder for a key concept.

Sticky Note Summaries – This serves as a great reading strategy for some of my high school students who struggle with reading comprehension. If the novel isn’t already broken up by chapters, divide it into small sections. Place a 5 x 8 sticky note at the end of each chapter. On the small, limited space, he summarizes each chapter in his own words filing up the entire sticky note. This will help your reader focus on the key plot points while also practicing proper summarization – a skill that is key in plenty of high school/college classes. And, now he’s ready to start school with his own personal notes for each part of the novel.

Audio Books – As mentioned above, this is such a great alternative, especially if your child struggles with reading. This shouldn’t necessarily replace reading all together, but following along in a book while the audio reads aloud helps the child visualize the scenarios and grasp a better understanding of the plot. I find this helps tremendously with children who might struggle with learning differences. The public library has plenty of options for audio books.

Teach It – If your high schooler can have a conversation about what he’s just read, then he understood it. If he can essentially “teach” it to you, then he’s learned something. If not, then he might need to change the way he’s reading (i.e., not silently in his bedroom with air pods in). Encouraging your child to tell you what’s going on in the novel or what his favorite/least favorite parts are, will not only open dialogue about reading but will serve as a checking point for you to make sure his comprehension skills are on point.

The options are endless when it comes to spicing things up for your school-aged reader. Sometimes just doing something different will serve as incentive to read like creating a small reading space, or switching to graphic novel format, or having older cousins talk to your child about books they’ve read. Reading shouldn’t be stressful. Don’t let summer come and go without it.

What successes have you found with your readers?

Jennifer Gonzales
Wife to my high school sweetheart, Ross, and mother to 5 children: Trip, Conner, McKenzie, Piper, and Sutton, I am a born and raised Southern Louisiana Lady. I am a graduate of Mt. Carmel Academy, received my Bachelor’s in English with a concentration in Secondary Ed. from LSU followed by my Master’s of Education from UNO, and for the past 15 years, I have been outwitting high school boys as an English teacher at Holy Cross School. When I’m not grading papers, driving to baseball practices, or making grocery runs, I can be found cheering on my LSU Tigers, cutting up with my girlfriends, and attempting DIY projects around the home. I’m all about sippin’ some wine during the sunset while the kiddos play in the yard and the hubby works the grill. I’m living my best mommy life these days and am always happy to share the journey with others!


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