Here comes summer - that time of year we parents stare at an expanse of empty calendar squares and scratch our heads over how we might keep our kids' minds sharp over the two-month school hiatus.
There are a few simple things you can do to help your children become strong readers. If these strategies are in place in your home, they will not only encourage strong summer reading, they will help nurture your children's literacy skills well beyond the academic setting.
These provisions (condensed to the acronym R.E.A.D.*) are easy to create in your own home. So put away those workbooks and flashcards, relax and just R.E.A.D.
Routines are critical to healthy families. Though your routines will change during the summer, protect a predictable time of day for reading. Read at bedtime or while your child is in the bath. Talk about books at the dinner table, or start a reading tradition. One family I know reads books set in their summer vacation destination prior to traveling there. Your children will look forward to these moments, and warm memories will be created.
Reading takes concentration, and much of summer life is distracting. Help edit your child's environment to create a sense of calm. Provide a comfortable place for you and your child to interact with books. Turn off the television and video games, and ignore the phone. Be "all in" with your child. Just 20 minutes a day can make an impact.
Kids need access to reading materials that are level-appropriate and interesting to them. Show that reading is valued in your home by giving books the same prominent place in the family's living area as you do the television or toys. Place books on low shelves or in baskets on the floor, with the covers facing out. Offer guidance, but let your child choose what to read. Subscribe to children's magazines and shop for new books together. Keep materials in the car, and bring them into restaurants and on trips. Because electronic reading is a major part of this generation's canon, welcome eBooks into your collection, too.
Kids need to interact with others about their reading. More than teaching your children how to read, this means talking with your children about their reading. Ask your child's opinions, laugh at the funny parts, or wonder aloud about something to start a conversation. Connect the books you read to everyday situations. Babies and toddlers love the sound of a parent's voice singing the rhythms and rhymes of a book. Emergent readers need coaching as they navigate text. Older children look for help as they negotiate the complex social themes in books through the lens of their family's values.
These habits are much easier to establish when your children are very young, but even small changes can have tremendous impact on the reading lives of your kids. Happy summer reading!
*R.E.A.D. acronym is from "What to Read When." by Pam Allyn.
• Debbie Lera is executive director of LitLife West, a literacy consulting firm, and the author of "Writing Above Standard." She consults with local schools and families, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.