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Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Summer Reading Blues

Every summer I argue with my kids about summer reading. I did this for seven years while at least one of my kids attended middle school and countless number of years before and after that. It seemed that no matter what approach I took it backfired. I often caught them reading other things so it is not like they hated reading.

Every summer I posed the following questions to myself….Does summer reading really foster a love of reading? Is summer reading just a chore that kids hate to do? Why does summer reading have to be so structured?

I happen to believe that more students hate summer reading than love it. My kids are so sour on the subject that they will not even discuss possible solutions to make it better. Based on Mom observations, I can cite several reasons why students learn to hate summer reading and maybe reading in general.

Just like adults, most children do not like being told what to read.
Do you like being told what to read? I don’t. If I start a book and don’t like it, I am not obligated to finish it. With summer reading, students have to finish the book. It does not matter if they like it or not. Yes, sometimes you have to read things or do work you do not like but remember this is summer reading I am talking about.

Some of the teacher’s book choices are really out there.
I don’t know who recommends book lists for teachers but I can guarantee they do not deal with middle school children on a regular basis. Same goes with award winning book lists. In my opinion, many books that receive recommendations or win awards do so because the subject matter appeals to adults.
Some parents are curious enough to read their child’s summer reading books. . Occasionally I was one of those parents. Chatting with these parents at the beach, many loved the book selections so they expected their kid to like it too. They could not figure out why their boys (especially) were having such a hard time getting into what I considered “chick books”. There are a lot more “chick books” out there than books that appeal to boys. Face it there are a lot more female teachers out there and they tend to recommend books that have more girl appeal. Get a teacher (male or female) with a social cause and all their book recommendations will slant that way.

They dread the follow up project.
If I had to do a project or write a follow up paper every time I read a book, I would never read again. There are at least three sides to this piece. Some children come from a home where parents end up doing a lot of the project because they just want to get it over with. (I admit I was one of those parents) Then you have children who come from homes were no one even cares and they have no support with home work even during the school year. Then there are children where school is just so hard for them that even with help, it is stressful and they fail summer reading too.
I have often wondered what the kids do if they spend the summer at camp. Sure, they could get the reading done but what about the projects. Some summers we have had more than one project per kid.

No time for fun reading.
Some summers my kids had to read more than just 1 or 2 books for summer reading. That left little time for any fun reading choices.

Parents have to police summer reading.
I love spending the summer asking/ arguing with my kids about whether they did their summer reading. I have enough to argue with them about. Just kidding, but it does effect some family harmony.

Please do not get me wrong, as a Speech Language Pathologist I know how important reading is. Kids need to read during the summer. My point is being forced to read can not foster a love of reading. I have no magic thoughts on how to do this. The best success I ever had was when my kids were going into 6th grade. We were given lists of books from different genres and they had to pick one from 2 or 3 genres. We made a special trip to the book store, talked about the selections, went out to lunch and went to the mall. I was lucky I could do that. The library would not have as many choices. I remember those summers were fine (for that one kid) until the projects came along.

For children with reading challenges summer reading can be torture. Perhaps the required reading can be modified but then come September, when projects are due, everyone knows they’ve read different books.

Other than bribery, does anyone have any other solutions to deal with summer reading? I think book groups would be great but accountability would be a problem. It would be difficult for every child to participate in a group unless they met at school. A more diverse choice of books might be a good first step.
Parents your not off the hook either. You need to set a good example by reading a lot yourself. Read lots of different things. Make time to read.

Send me your suggestions, concerns and complaints about summer reading. I would love to hear from middle school Language Arts teachers as well as parents. What are other schools around the country doing to make summer reading more enjoyable? There has to be a better way to motivate children to read. Let me know what you think.