Rethinking Our Kids’ Summer Reading

Dr. Delaney Ruston – It is natural to have high hopes that our kids will do some summer reading. It is easy to fantasize about them getting lost in a story of a book we loved growing up — some book with fabulous characters, lovely sentence structures, and new vocabulary.

And then there is reality.

Many kids don’t naturally devour books for multiple reasons — dyslexia, little interest, busy scrolling, etc. In addition, numerous kids and teens gravitate to books that don’t fit any of the criteria I mentioned above. Instead, they consistently choose what a friend calls “junk books.”

Today I am writing about the importance of examining our expectations, hopes, and dreams for our kids’ reading and sharing ideas to help create fewer disappointments and a broader view of what “success” looks like regarding reading:

Withhold criticism of reading choices

I regret being as judgy as I was about the books my daughter read in her tween and early teen years. She loved the romance genre of books of which I worried about stereotypes, over-focusing on looks, hyper-sexualized messages, and the list goes on. 

I wished she picked books with fewer stereotypes and a wider variety of genres. 

Although I didn’t overtly put Tessa down for reading those books, I would say little things here and there that inferred I was not happy about her choices. 

Looking back, I wish I could have been more appreciative of her reading and less worried about what she was reading.

Appreciate the upsides of audiobooks 

My friend Liz, a former reading specialist, told me her son struggled with reading. Reading was taxing for him throughout high school, and it is still now in college. The good news is, little by little, things are getting better. Listening to audiobooks and, at times, following along with the text has helped him a lot. He did this in high school and sometimes still uses this tool in college. 

There is much to be gained from just listening to stories, even if not following along with the actual text. Being swept away into a story is a fantastic feeling. In addition to enjoyment, stories provide new perspectives on human nature, relationships, and more. 

Why not just watch movies and shows for stories? Those modes of storytelling fill in so much that the brain loses the opportunity to shape the story creatively.  Liz explains that, 

“…audiobooks allow readers to focus on the rhythm of language. Though we can hear this rhythm in movies too, we are often distracted by images. This is more of a deep dive into language.” 

There are additional benefits when kids read the text while listening to an audiobook. One is that it increases the chance they will stick with the story. If decoding and processing skills are overly taxed, kids can get frustrated and give up. 

In addition, Liz explains that “By following along with an audiobook, readers can build both fluency and decoding skills without losing comprehension. Pairing text and audio can help kids increase vocabulary acquisition, sight-sound correspondence, and grammar structures.”

While all these things are true, at bedtime, print books can help ensure that the pull of the internet is not keeping them from sleep. If audiobooks get used at bedtime, there are ways to decrease the chance that the world wide web will appear, such as having the device out of the room and piping in the book with a  Bluetooth speaker. 

Be a pleasant story listener 

One thing that worked well was when I would find time when we were connecting and having fun to ask about the book she was reading, and often she would tell me about it. 

Did I ever want to comment on the problems I saw with the messaging of the book? Yes! But I would save those discussions for a different time and just tried to be jazzed that she read the book and how much I appreciated she was sharing her thoughts about it with me. 

Granted, I started doing this more successfully after realizing I had been too judgy too long about her choices.

Embrace “yet”

If you find your kids or teens do not make time for reading books, remember you are not alone. Plenty of kids are not reading much, but often, they turn the corner at some point and get into it more. 

I was delighted when Tessa recently recommended that I read Lori Gottlieb’s book, Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, which I did and loved. 

I liked how my friend Liz summarized things, “I think the point with all of this is that whatever captures their attention and whatever matters to them counts and is an entry point.”

Remember, you can read a book you wish they would read and talk to them about it later – whether it’s Charlotte’s Web or The Tapper Twins Go To War.

Questions to get the conversation started:

  1. Have I ever made you feel a bit defensive about your reading choices?
  2. Is there a story you recently read about and can share with me? 
  3. Is there any short book that seems appealing to read by the end of June? 
  4. What are our thoughts about listening to stories via audiobooks?
  5. Do you, or do you know anyone who has listened to an audiobook while reading the text?