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Summer reading doesn't have to be a chore

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  July 20, 2010 08:42 AM

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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 and follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.

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10 comments so far...
  1. "I like the for PCs, which allows you to add music and sound effects -- like the "ping!" at the end of each page). "

    Is PC's a program or does it mean personal computer. I would love to use my computer to make this a fun activity for my son and I but am not sure how to start.

    Great ideas :)

    Posted by joanne July 20, 10 04:15 PM
  1. As a kid I always remember my mom reading the book I chose to read as well and I really liked talking about the book with her. We still to this day do that, and I'm 25! It's like having our own personal book club!

    Posted by summahlovah July 20, 10 08:34 PM
  1. Sorry, Joanne -- a missing > when coding a link can wreak havoc! I've corrected it, but the passage should read 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. "PCs" does refer to personal computers... the software doesn't work with Macs, unfortunately. -- LMA

    Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse Author Profile Page July 20, 10 11:01 PM
  1. I love the graffiti wall and family stories which we will incorporate into our reading lives - thanks! We do making your own audio books on Ripple Reader ( - it's pretty fun and the books are picture books so it doesn't take too long.

    Love finding this article -- thanks!


    Posted by Melissa Taylor July 20, 10 11:04 PM
  1. We have a family reading hour in which everyone in the family sits down and reads a book at the same time. We borrowed this idea from a family we met last summer camping at Nickerson. It's a good way to find the time to read and model reading and has helped to make my 9 year old an avid reader!

    Posted by EIleen McMahon July 21, 10 06:39 AM
  1. Yay for great suggestions! Thanks for the brain fodder as our daughter grows...

    Posted by Phe July 21, 10 07:56 AM
  1. Sometimes the summer reading lists are just suggestions, which is great - most kids prefer choosing their own books (who wouldn't?) The International Reading Association compiles lists of favorites chosen by kids - books that'll never get nominated for a Newbery Medal but that have strong kid appeal. We've found some wonderful books this way.

    Posted by Ellen Jacobs July 21, 10 09:34 AM
  1. From a reader, via e-mail:

    As a librarian, I would add asking local children's librarians for suggestions -- most have seen it all. They can be as broad as steering kids to graphics oriented books, magazines, to tumblebooks which are ebooks read aloud.

    Thanks for the great suggestion! -- LMA

    Posted by LMA July 21, 10 11:40 AM
  1. My 12-year-old son has trouble with reading and comprehension so it's a chore to him to read. This year, we got the summer reading list and there was one book he had to read and then he could choose a second from the list. I got reviews of all of the choices, presented them to him and he chose the one that was the least unappealing. We ordered both and had them before school ended and he started reading a chapter at a time the first week of vacation. We went to the store and he picked out a colorful notecard wheel on which he could write up notes for each chapter on a separate notecard. He also picked out some fun new colored pens that are just for summer reading notes - sometimes having fresh, fun supplies makes a difference. So far, so good - he actually likes the books, is taking good notes, and isn't fighting like he did the last two summers. I will read the books myself soon to make sure that he's "getting" everything.

    As a family, I read a chapter book aloud to all of the kids (ages 4-12) at bedtime as well as picture books to the younger kids on demand during the day/evening. The younger ones are old enough to follow along and my oldest still gets a kick out of the stories. We just read a couple of Judy Blume books and are now on the Beatrice and Ramona books. I have all boys so reading something funny yet girly like "Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great" was really eye opening to them because they didn't know, for example, what girls do at sleepovers (remember Slam Books ladies?). So the read aloud chapter books are a good place to mix up genders and get away from all boys, all the time (sports, dinosaurs, sharks, vehicles, animals etc.), which is what they choose to read for themselves.

    I love the audio book idea and will definitely check that out - a couple of years ago my oldest read "Hoot" while listening to it on audiobook and it was a great experience for him.

    Posted by Jen July 21, 10 12:25 PM
  1. This is a fantastic article! The reading tips are great, especially as summer can be one of the most difficult times to get reluctant readers excited about books.

    Reach Out and Read, a Boston-based early literacy organization, is another great resource for reading tips. Reach Out and Read prepares America's youngest children to succeed in school by partnering with doctors to prescribe books and encourage families to read together. Doctors, nurse practitioners, and other medical professionals incorporate Reach Out and Read's evidence-based model into regular pediatric checkups, by advising parents about the importance of reading aloud and giving developmentally-appropriate books to children.

    Check out Reach Out and Read's website for doctor-recommended children's books and reading tips for kids of all ages.

    Posted by Carolyn July 22, 10 11:39 AM
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about the author

Lylah M. Alphonse
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.

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