Reluctant readers are not uncommon. For those who struggle with processing issues, or for those who haven't yet discovered a literary niche that suits them, reading can be a problem rather than a pleasure. For these kids, that summer reading list casts a long shadow.
Nancy Traversy, CEO of Barefoot Books in Concord, has dealt with reading issues with her own four children. She remembers when one of her daughters, now 18, was about 9 and a teacher told her that she was too old for the beautifully illustrated fairy tale book she enjoyed, and should be reading chapter books instead. "She actually hid my book under her bed because she was so embarrassed by it, and she was being forced to read something she didn't really like. She was getting put off reading."
Encouraging kids to read what they love can help foster an interest in reading in general. "If you force a child to read something they don't want to read, then I think that can have long term damage," she says. "Make sure your child loves whatever they read. You can get them to read anything and engage their imaginations."
If your child has been staring down his or her summer reading list instead of tackling it, there are several things you can do to help them find out that reading can be fun (and keep summertime brain drain at bay while you're at it):
Make a book graffiti wall. The experts at Reading is Fundamental (RIF) suggest decorating a large piece of paper or posterboard to look like a brick wall, and encouraging your kids to draw pictures and write recommendations on it based on the books they have read or are reading.
Make your own audiobooks. Older kids who need help with comprehension may find that reading out loud makes it easier to understand and retain the information in the book; making their own audiobooks can be a fun way to encourage this. (I like the DigiTells Read Along with Me software for PCs, which allows you to add music and sound effects -- like the "ping!" at the end of each page). Homemade audiobooks are great for younger kids as well (they'll enjoy hearing mom or dad read to them on demand, and you won't have to drop everything and pick up "Goodnight Moon" for the eleventy-billionth time unless you want to).
Read around the world. Another project from RIF: Help develop geography and reading skills by making a faux passport and a copy of an oversized world map. Each time you and your child read a story about a different part of the world, color in that country on the map and stamp the passport. Continue the activity by doing research on the countries, reading the newspaper and watching the news.
Write down your family's stories. Telling stories from your personal life is a fun way to teach values, pass on family history, and build your child’s listening and thinking skills, and children may be more interested in reading or sharing the stories they've written down themselves.
Read everything and anything. There's more to read than newspapers, magazines, and books. Online reading opportunities abound, and kids may also be more interested in graphic novels or audiobooks than they are traditional matierlas. Don't dismiss road signs, menus, billboards, cereal boxes, and lots of other everyday items, the folks at RIF point out: Read aloud anything with words and present reading as a way to discover the world.
(By the way, Reading Is Fundamental and Macy’s have teamed up to create Book A Brighter Future, a national partnership to raise awareness and support of children’s literacy. Through July 31, Macy’s customers who give $3 will get a coupon for $10 off one purchase of $50 or more at any Macy’s store nationwide; the $3 helps RIF provide new books to millions of children each year.)
Do you have a favorite time to read with your kids? How are their summer reading projects coming along?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.