by Meredith Flory

Summer is about relaxation, vacation and American traditions. But this year, a lot of our favorite pastimes are not available to us.  As travel, summer camps, potlucks and pool parties are canceled, you might be struggling with how to kindle some summertime magic for your children. 

We all want to create moments of joy for our children, especially in times where many things are weighing heavy on our hearts. So, how about making a little summertime fun through reading? Our hope through Raising Readers is to help children see reading as a creative way to fill their curious minds. Summer is a great time to escape into the wonder of books.

Take your reading outside: If you have a patio, backyard or outdoor space you love, set up a blanket with some snacks and read together as a family. Consider purchasing a hammock or outdoor furniture to designate the special space. Make it a habit for everyone in the family to read together as a relaxation technique. If you cannot make a permanent space, you might pitch a tent in the backyard at night and take flashlights to read stories aloud while nestled into sleeping bags and blankets. You can also use the outdoors as an extension of what you are reading with the purchase of insect, plant or bird field guides.

Experience athletics through reading: If your family misses summer sports in fields or on TV, pick up books about a specific sport for your family to read. Author Dan Gutman has many sport-themed books in middle-grade fiction.  I love illustrator Christopher Myers’ retelling of the Lewis Carrol poem “The Jabberwocky” in a picture book focused on basketball. For older children and teenagers, introduce classic movies about their favorite sport and then read up on more information together from books. One example for baseball fans is to read and watch The Natural. Watch Field of Dreams, then read W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, the book the movie was based on, along with his other baseball books. By reading nonfiction works about important players like Jackie Robinson or the female athletes of World War II, kids learn about history. Afterward, they can watch fictionalized or documentary movies on the same topics. 

Build with your imagination: You can do a lot with a cardboard box, so put all that online shopping packaging to good use. Your child can use his/her imagination to build an indoor playground. Crawl inside a large box and color with glow-in-the-dark crayons or paint. Use a collection of boxes to build a castle, spaceship or robot.  Some picture books to encourage your imagination are Not a Box by Antoinette Portis, What to do With a Box by Jane Yolen and The Cardboard Box Book by Priddy, Powell, and Sido.

Design a designated reading space: Children are more likely to choose books over other activities when they have easy access to them in a comfortable space. A few weeks ago, my children built a pillow fort and then invited my husband and me in for a “reading party”. Some people have gotten so inventive as to build a doorway to Narnia or a Harry Potter-themed room under their stairs or inside an unused closet, stringing lights and filling with pillows. But a simple reading nook can be very functional. Firstly, decide on the space. If you have multiple children, find a space that is in a common area. Section it off with furniture, a special rug or a curtain. Think about how to store books with ease and accessibility. While teens and older children can reach bookshelves, bins or lower shelfing where books face out might be easier for a younger reader. I use bins from the dollar tree that I have labeled with topics, genres or authors so that my kids can grab and go. Lastly, you will want to make comfy, inviting seating.  Armchairs, bean bag chairs or floor pillows, or a loft or hideaway space with blankets are all great options. Finally, consider lighting that is bright enough to read, but not harsh, such as lamps, a window, skylight or strings of Edison light bulbs. 

This article appears in the July 2020 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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