This article originally appeared in the June 30, 2011, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Swimming, camp and family vacations can fill our calendars during the summer, making it a challenge for kids to read anything more in-depth than the pool’s concession stand list without a gentle nudge.
But kids’ reading skills don’t have to take a summer break. There are many ways that parents can encourage their children to develop a love of reading that lasts year-round.
Keeping to a routine is very important for children, so keep up those reading routines. Everything else may change in the summer, but if your child typically reads with you before bed, continue doing that. Parents should try to find time to read with their kids every day, whether it’s that before-bed ritual or under a cool tree on a lazy afternoon.
The important thing is to be patient but persistent to encourage a reading approach that works with your child.
“Reading isn’t a one-size-fits-all activity,” said Dr. Elizabeth Sugarbaker, a pediatrician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and director of Reach Out and Read at Cardinal Glennon. “Kids who think they don’t like reading may have simply not found the type of book that interests them and keeps them turning the pages. Some children might like adventure-type stories or tales of made-up worlds, while others may prefer books more based in reality.”
A key for parents who want to help kids develop a love of reading is to give them options. Parents can plan trips to their local library to look for books their kids haven’t seen before. With a wide array of books to choose from, kids may have an easier time finding one that strikes their fancy.
For kids who don’t yet know what type of books interest them, libraries offer summer reading programs and book clubs to jump-start a love of reading. Summer reading contests can make gentle competition out of reading. Young children will feel very “adult” with their new library card as they check out books on their very own.
Kids can also take the opportunity to read on a long car trip. When parents are heading out on vacation, they can stock the backseat with favorite books that the kids can read on their own. Audiobooks are another great alternative.
“Audiobooks can be great, because they engage the entire family in the story,” Sugarbaker said. “Families can talk about their favorite parts of the books, which characters they identified with and they can really have a good discussion about the story together.”
Parents can also tap into their child’s creative side to inspire a love of books. Pick one of your family’s favorite parts of summer and have your child draw pictures of the activity or cut pictures out from magazines and catalogs. You could even use your own picture from an activity—just make sure you have doubles. Paste the pictures onto paper to make a book and write text to go with each of the pictures. You can reread the book together with your child anytime you need to welcome back the sunshine in colder weather.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon website at www.cardinalglennon.com.