During a recent 12-hour car ride to their summer home in Michigan, the Leland family finished two books, “Bridge To Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” They plowed through the audiobook version of both classics. While encouraging her children to read during the summer is usually met with eye rolls, Meg Leland says that her 14-year-old-son and 12-year-old daughter were more receptive to audio books, and when they listen as a family, meaningful discussions ensue.
“We have a lot more free time this summer, so I say audio books are fine because at least they’re absorbing books and exercising their brain more than they would if they were constantly texting their friends or playing video games,” she said. “But I’m still trying to get them to read more books with real pages.”
As COVID19 restrictions have curtailed the traditional activities like camp and vacations, families like the Lelands have more free time to fill. The constraints and limitations have left many children bored and parents struggling to decrease screen time and get their students engaged in reading.
“Since this past school year ended on an academic roller coaster, it’s important to pull together a balance of fun and light academics like reading,” said education consultant Lisa Cram. “Picking up a book might be the last thing some children want to do, so parents have to get creative.”
That creativity, says Cram, needs to be rooted in structure.
“Create a daily schedule that includes time for reading or other academics, but also includes time for recreation,” she said. “Predictability will let kids know what to expect, so they’ll be less resistant to academics especially if they have another activity to look forward to.”
While Cram doesn’t believe that all screen time should be eliminated, it shouldn’t be the only form of recreation. “Physical activity is just as important as academics,” she said. “Ride bikes and go on hikes as a family.”
Audio books are a way to infuse long summer days with literature, but she believes that there are other methods for motivating children to delve into physical books as well. “Obviously one of the most effective ways to inspire children to read is for parents to read and model that behavior,” said Cram. “Beyond that, read books on how to do a particular activity and then do it together as a family. Children can read about gardening and you can plan a family garden together. Cook a meal or a dish from a book that you’ve read.”
Other methods for making reading more enticing, says Cram, include reading a book and watching the movie or selecting books that are related to current events. “COVID19 is an obvious topic,” she said. “A suggestion for middle school students is “Fever 1793” by Laurie Anderson which deals with the “The Yellow Fever Epidemic and can lead to a discussion about resilience and survival. For younger children I suggest, ‘My Hero is You, How Younger Kids Can Fight COVID19,’ by Helen Patuck. It’s free as a PDF and teaches children the ways that they can stay safe.”
Literature for sparking meaningful conversations about racial injustice abounds, Karen Bentall, Librarian at Oakridge Elementary School. For younger children she suggests “Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice, by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard. “[It’s] a direct entry to conversation about what is happening today,” she said.
“This summer is what it is and there’s very little that we can do to change it,” added Cram. “But we can finish out the last half of summer more in a meaningful way that doesn’t lead to brain drain.”
Book Suggestions for Summer Reading
”Roll of Thunder, Hear Me Cry,” by Mildred Taylor
“The Girl Who Drank the Moon,” by Kelly Barnhill
“Brown Girl Dreaming,” By Jacqueline Woodson
“Finding Audrey,” By Sophie Kinsella
“I’ll Give You the Sun,” by Jandy Nelson
“An Ember in the Ashes,” by Sahara Tahir
“The Silence of Fountains,” by Ruta Sepetys
“Love from A to Z,” by S. K. Ali
“SLAY,” by Brittney Morris
“It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories,” by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman
“Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You,” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
“My Hero is You, How Younger Kids Can Fight COVID19,” by Helen Patuck, (free as a PDF)