August has arrived, bringing with it the inevitable cries of “I’m bored!” in homes all over our region. You want your kids to find things to do that don’t involve screens and keyboards. Possibly, you’ve got a tween or teen who has yet to discover the joy of escaping into a good book.
Reading, just like any other skill, needs to be practiced, or a child gets rusty.
“If [children] don’t practice, they can slip,” says David Brower, principal of Sacajawea Middle School in Federal Way, who says teen and tween summer reading is good for more than battling boredom. “Not only will they have a much easier transition back into school in September if they’re exercising their reading muscles, but their test scores won’t slip like they do with students who haven’t read during the summer.”
Many kids think summer means they don’t “have to” read anymore, and that’s sad, according to Nancy Pearl, a former Seattle librarian and the author of Book Crush: For Kids and Teens — Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Interest. Pearl believes that anyone who says they aren’t a reader simply hasn’t found the right book yet. “There’s a book out there for every reader,” says Pearl.
Choosing summer reading
Brower agrees and says teens should be allowed to read whatever they want. “When a teen says he doesn’t like to read, what he’s really saying is he doesn’t like to read what he’s been told to read.” Within reason, parents need to let their kids select their own summer reading materials, says Brower. “Don’t get uptight about what they are reading. Let go of the idea that every book they pick up has to be a classic.”
But if there’s any question in your mind about whether a book is appropriate for middle school summer reading, read it yourself and rely on your own opinion. You’re the only one who knows what is offensive to you or what you don’t want your child to read.
Here are some other ways parents can encourage reading at home:
- Set a family reading time — the TV is turned off and everyone reads.
- Read what your tween or teen is reading, and then talk about the book together.
- Allow your child to stop reading if he isn’t enjoying a book.
- Discuss what everyone in the family is reading.
- Give your tween or teen a book allowance and the freedom to choose what books he wants to buy.
- Take family trips to the library or bookstore.
- Encourage your tween or teen to sign up for summer reading programs at local libraries and bookstores.
Many reading experts advocate having all kinds of reading material around the house in order to engage your teen. Magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias and even audiobooks all fit the bill, but Pearl puts a different spin on audiobooks.
“When you’re reading a tangible book [as opposed to an audiobook], it’s just you and the author,” says Pearl. “You bring all of your experiences to the book. With an audiobook, there’s a third person directing how the characters sound according to his interpretation.” Still, some kids love being read to — whether via an audiobook or a parent! — while they putter in their room or doodle.
“Don’t stop reading aloud to tweens,” says Pearl, “because there’s something special about that.”
Heather Larson is freelance writer living in Federal Way.
BOOK SUGGESTIONS FROM NANCY PEARL
THE NEED TO READ
Many teens know that reading is important, but may have forgotten that it can also be fun, says Morgan Griffith, center director for the Federal Way Sylvan Learning Center.
Griffith suggests more ways to motivate your reluctant reader:
- Provide the right environment by setting up a reading area for your teen furnished with a comfortable chair and good lighting.
- Give your child a subscription to a magazine she likes.
- Read books by the same author, comparing and contrasting that writer’s style in those books.
- Read newspaper editorials with your teen and discuss them.
- Show your tween or teen books about a sport or hobby she likes.
- Encourage your child to read book series (e.g., Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, The Chronicles of Narnia, Little House on the Prairie).