If you’re always telling your kids to put down their devices and pick up a book, keep it up. Reading is a skill that helps your child’s world expand in so many ways. Being a super reader teaches vocabulary, develops imagination and helps with concentration. Kids whose parents read them five books a day start kindergarten having heard more than one million more words than children whose parents don’t read to them, according to a study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.
Books are a way for parents and kids to bond, and a love of reading can transform a fun childhood activity into a passion for literacy in adulthood. So how can you encourage your child to love reading and become great at it? We asked literacy experts for advice on how to improve their reading skills and have fun this summer.
Take some time each night to read a book to your child, or have her read to you. But don’t just read—take the time to check in after every few pages or each chapter and ask what’s happening in the story. “When you’re reading aloud, take pauses from the text to think aloud,” suggests Deimosa Webber-Bey, a librarian at Scholastic and former educator. “Make text connections to real life or other books and anticipate what’s going to happen next.”
EXPLORE DIFFERENT GENRES
If your kid isn’t gung-ho about becoming a reader, it might be that he hasn’t found his genre yet. For my son, humor was the gateway to his love of books. After discovering Abby Hanlon’s Dory Fantasmagory series, he was off and running. “Expose kids to a variety of genres and topics and let them choose what interests them the most,” says Kylie Taylor, assistant principal at KIPP Newark Collegiate Academy. “Parents can take their child to the local library or bookstore and work with them to find a book about a topic that really interests them.”
SET AN EXAMPLE
If you want your child to be a super reader, be a role model by making time for your own reading. “Join or create a book club yourself, browse the book or magazine aisle while grocery shopping with your child, renew your public library card and download the apps needed to read audio and e-books for free,” suggests Webber-Bey. “Creating a home where kids have access to books and where, from an early age, they’re given time and space to read can also help create positive associations with reading,” says Taylor.
GET TO KNOW YOUR LOCAL LIBRARIAN
The local library isn’t just a great resource for books—librarians have a wealth of knowledge they’re willing to share with you and your kids. From book recommendations to pinpointing the correct reading level for your child, they can guide you on your reading journey. Many librarians even put together book bundles by grade level, which takes the stress out of choosing books.
CREATE A READING ROUTINE
For many parents, right before bed makes the most sense for storytime, but don’t be afraid to change your schedule during the summer. Encourage your reader to choose library time as an indoor activity when you need to escape the heat, or bring books to the pool or beach for a few minutes of reading. “Create a summer reading routine so reading time doesn’t get lost during the busy summer schedule and discuss the books you’ve read together,” says Kelly Trinidad, director of elementary literacy at KIPP New Jersey.
MAKE READING REWARDING
Whether it’s a summer program through your local library, the Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program or just a promise of a treat for each finished book, prizes can go a long way toward keeping kids engaged in books over the summer. My kids both enjoyed filling up their reading sheets to bring to the Princeton Public Library, which rewards readers with choices from a treasure chest and a certificate for a sweet treat from a local ice cream shop. Another great idea is to reward kids with a viewing of the movie version of the book they just read. Our family loved watching Jim Carrey bring Mr. Popper’s Penguins to life on the silver screen.
KEEP IT RELATABLE
Especially for older kids in middle school and beyond, helping them connect what they’re reading to reality (for example, choosing a book about middle school if that’s where your kid is) can encourage him to become a reader. “This can allow kids to see books as a way of exploring their own lives instead of seeing them as something completely separate from it,” says Taylor. “Summer is a great time to build family reading experiences. I suggest parents ask English teachers for a summer reading list and then get a copy for themselves to read so they can support their child with comprehension and engage with them in authentic conversations inspired by the text.”
Here’s to a summer filled with great reads for you and your kids.
—Ronnie Koenig is a freelance writer and mother of two living in Princeton. Follow her on Instagram @ronniekoenig.