by Meredith Flory
For younger children, reading in the home is hopefully part of a routine that can be used year round – bedtime stories, storytimes at local libraries or simply having easily accessible board books and picture books for them to look at are ways to encourage a love of reading year round. However, once readers become more independent and school takes up a large part of their time, it can be more difficult to help your child cultivate a love of learning related to their own curiosity, rather than “work”. During the summer, your schedule as an adult may continue, while your children have suddenly more free time on their hands – time where books and educational pursuits face stiff competition from media and technology. The ability to relax and recharge is important for creativity and health at any age, but are there ways that we can encourage our children to make reading, writing and imaginative play a part of how they choose to relax?
Recently, I spoke with Trina Finley, a media specialist in the Columbia County school system, about motivating children, specifically teens to read over the summer. Finley was the Columbia County Media Specialist of the Year in 2011 and 2012 and has two daughters, one attending Davidson Fine Arts School, and one studying creative writing at Augusta University. Finley acknowledged that getting some students to read on their own will always be a struggle, but being patient and setting an example is key in motivating your children to come to reading on their own. She advises parents, “Don’t force it! I think that is one reason teens absolutely refuse to read over the summer. They have a variety of novels they read during the school year, and since they are forced during the school year, they absolutely do not want to read over the summer.” This may be particularly important for students who struggle in English classes, so here are ways to more subtlety encourage learning over the summer months.
Use Technology to your Advantage
For younger readers, the Epic! Books app and similar electronic book apps, might engage them through technology. Epic! Books is a e-book streaming service for preschool through middle school reading levels. For a monthly fee, children can access books, magazines, and learning videos. One fee is attached to a parent account that allows multiple child accounts and sends an email to the parent to let you know how much time, and what, your child is reading. Finley also suggested the Storia App by Scholastic which has books available for children. Magazine or comic subscriptions may be more appealing to children or teens who do not enjoy traditional fiction.
Finley also encourages Goodreads for teens and parents – a website or app that allows you to keep track of what you’ve read, read or post reviews, find book suggestions, and participate in online conversations with other readers. She adds that the Barnes and Noble website also has videos of interviews with authors and blog entries suggesting books to teens.
For budding writers, she shares that Wattpad is “by far the top choice” of writing apps. Wattpad is a free website and app that allows anyone to write and publish their stories, enter contests, and read by genre or hashtags. She explained, “In fact, some of the books I purchase for the media center are authors that have become famous because of Wattpad. Students here follow each other to read their work too.”
While the end goal should be intrinsic motivation, for reluctant readers, participating in some sort of incentive may help them begin to make good choices about how to spend their free time. You may have seen ideas on social media sites advocating a list of tasks for children to do in the summer before they are allowed to have their tablet or gaming system. This might include age appropriate chores, reading a chapter of a book, completing a puzzle or drawing activity, or other hands on activities for around the house.
Check with your local library for information on their summer reading program each year, or book clubs and other learning activities. Many libraries offer game nights, crafting or technology classes for children and teens. A weekly visit to a local library can be a fun summer activity to do with your child, and you could include a stop at a playground, ice cream store, or other fun outing nearby!
In addition to libraries, Finley reminds parents that other spaces in the community offer book-oriented events. She suggests our local Barnes and Noble as a space that offers reading events with a public calendar online, and the Book Tavern in downtown Augusta often offers storytimes and other reading events as well. She also mentioned that Augusta University Academy (www.augusta.edu/academy/) is a good resource for finding educational opportunities for families at our local university.
Finley recommended purchasing a gift card to a bookstore as a way to point teens towards choosing and purchasing reading material that they feel invested in and want to read. This may work as a present at the beginning of summer or a reward for completing another task around the house. Several local used bookstores, including 2nd & Charles, offer store credit or cash for books turned in. If your teen has raised their reading level, clean out books, video games and DVDs that you both own, and offer that they may have the store credit the family receives to purchase new books – make an evening of dinner and shopping together as a way to reconnect. Even at my daughter’s young age, turning in books and media we no longer need and browsing the different sections is an activity we enjoy doing as a family.
While it can be difficult to find ways to incorporate reading into a busy household, especially with older children, setting an example and providing opportunities throughout the year is a way to not only encourage your child to read unprompted, but to connect and build your relationship as well.
This article appears in the July 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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