Help is Here: Use expectations and incentives to encourage kids’ summer reading

SANDRA LIMOGE

Summer in Vermont is welcomed by children and parents alike – a warm reward after a long chilly winter. But with a break from formal classroom instruction, children may experience a regression of their reading skills. Thus, reading regularly over the summer – multiple times a week, preferably daily – is crucial to maintain and even improve reading skills. In order to make that happen, it’s important to have clear expectations, implement appropriate incentives and provide a variety of enjoyable reading materials.

Let’s start with setting the expectation and providing incentives. Having the expectation that your child reads over the summer is essential, as it may not happen without it. How you structure your expectation is up to you, and with the right incentives in place, it will definitely go much better.

There are many ways to provide the incentive to read, yet the most important thing is to be sure that what you are offering as an incentive is something your child is willing to work for and something you can live with. Examples of incentives might be an outing to see a movie or to do something else that’s special to your child, for example, dinner out or another activity.

Once you have the expectation and the incentive, then you set the criteria, like, “When you read X number of minutes, we’ll celebrate with this activity!” If you’re hoping that your child reads 20 minutes a day, then celebrating after 140 minutes of reading is a reasonable goal. The next goal may be for 300 cumulative minutes – 160 minutes added to the already completed 140 minutes – for a slightly more special incentive. Follow the pattern for setting goals, and by the end of the summer, with good planning on your part, your child may have read upwards of 1,000 minutes. Tracking the total number of minutes your child reads throughout the whole summer is a great incentive in itself and helps to reinforce success.

After establishing the expectation and incentive to read, the next step is to make sure your child has reading materials available to them that they will enjoy; books or magazines that they won’t want to put down. Hopefully, that will be the creative and fun part of your endeavors, and creativity and variety are important elements. You and your child can plan regular trips to the library to find reading material that is enjoyable and tailored to your child’s interests and reading level.

Librarians are a great resource, and they can give you information about the library’s summer reading programs. Comics and graphic novels can be great options, as well as nonfiction texts in areas of interest. Also, encourage your child to read street signs, cereal boxes, menus, letters from family and friends, board game instructions and recipes from cookbooks. Most importantly, think outside the box and make it fun.

As part of your summer reading adventure, make reading a family experience. Take time to read together with your child, have your child read to you, and read aloud to your child. Reading together will foster warm connections and provide opportunities for discussing and asking questions about the stories you are reading. Reading aloud is a great way to expose your child to books with higher level content that is outside their independent reading level and makes reading more interactive.

And finally, a pitch for reading throughout the year. Vocabulary development for those who read for approximately 20 minutes daily is exponentially higher than those who do little to no reading. A stronger vocabulary positively impacts success in school. To help your child be a better reader, set the expectation, implement incentives and provide a variety of enjoyable reading materials this summer and throughout the year.

Howard Center improves the well-being of our community by helping people with mental health, substance use, intellectual disabilities, and autism needs. Help is here. www.howardcenter.org

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