When summer comes around with its tantalizing warm days, both parents and children breathe a sigh of relief. Everyone deserves a break from the busy schedule of school. So enjoy sleeping a little later, relaxing a little more and enjoying those beautiful summer days with plenty of outdoor fun and some good old-fashioned laziness. But don't forget one important thing: children, especially younger school-aged children, need to keep on reading during summer months or they'll forget many of the reading skills they learned this past school year.

Maybe your children are the lucky ones - those who learned to read as easily as waking up each morning. There are children who seem to learn to read almost without instruction, but most children aren't so fortunate. They need to practice their reading skills regularly because if they don't, they lose them. Can you remember how long a summer vacation used to seem? When June came along there was an impossibly long series of days and weeks before it was time for school again. Summer vacation can be months, a very long time for a young learner. So be aware, be wise and make sure your children practice their reading skills regularly over the summer months. Here are some tips to make summer reading fun and rewarding.

  1. Plan a family reading challenge over the summer months. When my own children were young, we brainstormed a series of rewards to be earned during the summer. We set a few guidelines such as minutes read per day or books per week, and when we were successful in reaching that goal a reward was earned. The weekly rewards were small ones such as stickers, small toys or maybe an ice cream cone. But the big reward came at the end of the summer if we met the requirements. That big reward might be a trip to the beach or an overnight party with friends. Be sure to make a chart and post it where it is visible. Then block out a time each day when reading is the thing to do. Make allowances for illness, company or other unforeseen events, but don't allow too many interruptions or your program will fly out the window like most New Year's resolutions.

  1. Your local library may have a summer reading program complete with themes and lots of incentives. If so, you're in luck. Make weekly visits to the library to enjoy their story times, check out new books and meet the requirements set by the children's librarian. You may want to add to their program so that reading daily is still the goal. Once again, the best way to improve reading skills is by reading more often and longer. Give individual support as needed. Listening to a book read by an adult or older child also counts. Reading is reading.

  1. More and more local bookstores are getting in on the summer reading program trend. Check out your local stores to see if they have ways to encourage young readers. They may have a story hour, a theme-related program or focus on a certain series of children's books with fun activities related to the selections.

  1. There are a very large number of children's reading websites available online. Many of the games and activities on these sites are as good as reading a book. They'll give practice in sounds and letters, provide listening practice, encourage reading for meaning and a whole host of other reading skills. Choose those sites that feature quality literature and those in which the games are truly reading-related and not just chasing a character around a screen. Here are several excellent children's reading websites. You can preview them before allowing your children to spend time with them.

  1. Children's authors often have websites to promote their books. Some of these sites are a wealth of information, crafts, reading games and more. Take note of favorite authors as you interact with your children at reading times, and then look by name for their websites. janbrett.com and kevinhenkes.com are two I would recommend for younger children. You'll find more as you search for them.

  1. Another great family reading idea is to choose a chapter book the entire family can enjoy and do a family read-aloud . Books such as "Where the Red Fern Grows" or C.S. Lewis's "Chronicles of Narnia" make for hours and hours of family enjoyment. Make some popcorn, gather around the living room or the kitchen table and take turns reading aloud. Or use driving time during vacations to listen to books on tape or enjoy read-alouds. Children will remember these special family times and be exposed to great literature at the same time.

  1. Parents, be readers yourself. There is nothing more powerful to your children than setting an example of the good reading habits you want them to develop. When it's reading time for them, try to arrange your day so you can enjoy a book as well. Or if that isn't possible, let them see you select books from the library and enjoy them as you have time. Talk about the books you read. What did you enjoy? Was it the characters, the action or the theme of the book? Did the story make you think about choices people have to make or did it make you laugh? The world of books is filled with enjoyment and it's part of parenting to pass that knowledge on to our children.

  1. Adults often take part in book clubs. If you've been a member of a book club, you know all about selecting a book, reading a portion of it and then gathering to discuss the ideas. Sometimes readers set personal goals such as researching the author or the setting of the book. Snacks and treats go along with book club gatherings. Why not create a family or neighborhood reading club for the kids? Make it a fun time and one that all involved look forward to each week. Give the group a name and plan an outing when the book is completed. Sometimes art projects are a good way to extend the reading or perhaps a skit or play. The possibilities are endless and your children will see reading as an enjoyable way to spend time with friends.

So there you have it. The big truth is that reading over the summer is really important for young readers. Luckily, doing the reading can be a ton of fun. Don't allow all the hard- won reading skills earned in the past school year to become rusty or forgotten over the summer. Find ways to make reading practice truly fun, even exciting. Your enthusiasm for summer reading will set the tone for your children. Grab those books and enjoy!


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Jan Pierce, M.Ed. is a retired teacher and the author of "Homegrown Readers" and "Homegrown Family Fun." Find Jan at janpierce.net