Whether you have a reluctant reader or a bookworm, make the most of school break with these smart summer reading strategies.

By Karen Cicero and Michelle Crouch
Updated June 08, 2020

I first learned about the term "summer slide" from my daughter's fifth-grade teacher. He tested the class's reading skills at the start of the year and compared them with what they had been at the end of fourth grade. Most of the kids had slipped—even my daughter, who read a couple of books a week during break, got a lower mark on the test.

"It's well-known that when kids read little or nothing over the summer, their skills can regress," explains Andrew Holt, a reading specialist for kindergarten to fifth-graders at the Gilman School, in Baltimore. "But even among kids who still read a fair amount, comprehension and fluency tend to drop because they don't explore the books as deeply." With your help, your child's skills can remain stable or even improve. Here are some expert tips for kids of all reading levels.

If Your Kid Resists Reading

Carry Over School Routines

If you want your child to be as enthusiastic about reading as she is about splashing around in the pool or playing games on an iPad, establish “Drop Everything and Read” time. "For the last couple of years, my child's teachers have required the class to read for 15 minutes every night," says Juli Hale, of Florence, Kentucky. "In the summer, we keep it up." Since it doesn't sound like much time, Hale says her 8-year-old daughter, Lillian, doesn't usually complain about it: "In fact, once her 15 minutes is over, she often reads longer to finish the chapter and then I talk with her about it." As an added bonus, you can make cozy book nooks around the house with beanbags, pillows, and a few books, or set up a reading tent in the backyard.

Pair His Passions with Prose

"Reluctant readers can get hooked on books about their fascinations," says Pamela Farris, Ph.D., professor emeritus of literature at Illinois State University, in Normal, and a retired elementary-school teacher. "I once taught a fifth-grader who struggled until he checked out books about snakes from the library." Ask your child to wow you with a couple of facts from the books.

Let Her Pick Anything

Research has found that students read more and learn best when they are allowed to select material for themselves. Visit the library or a bookstore once a week to let your child decide what to read—and don’t object if she chooses a Shawn Mendes biography or an issue of Sports Illustrated Kids. For digital copies, Amazon has plenty of books available for a free Kindle download. Search “Children’s Books, Kindle Edition” and sort by “Price: Low to High.” Your kid can scroll through all the wonderful options and choose what she wants.

Explore Different Formats

"Graphic novels are popular for both boys and girls this age," says Elizabeth Bird, a youth-materials specialist at the New York Public Library and mom of two. "You may think they're an easy read, but many have challenging vocabulary and complex plots." Great options include El Deafo, Smile, and Comic Squad: Recess!. "Kids are also all over almanacs and other books with goofy facts, such as 'How fast can a shark swim?'" says Dr. Farris. Several publishers, including National Geographic Kids, Time for Kids, and Scholastic, produce an almanac annually.

Suggest that your child compile a list of his favorite facts and then read them to younger siblings or neighborhood kids. To make it more fun, he could even pretend to read them in a radio announcer's voice. "Reading fluency isn't just about not stumbling over the words— it's also about prosody, reading the words with emotion," says Michelle Primerano, of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, who was an elementary-school reading specialist for six years.

Find Other Reading Opportunities

When you’re at the playground or the grocery store, or you’re just driving around the neighborhood, encourage your kid to look carefully at the signs. Reluctant readers may get overwhelmed by a book but can be motivated by just reading a recipe on the back of a box if they want to know what the words say.

If Your Kid is Stuck on a Series or Two

Embrace Her Taste

"It's important to encourage, not redirect, her selections," says Katie O'Dell, youth-services director at Multnomah County Library, in Portland, Oregon. "Many of us with dusty collections of The Baby-Sitters Club books can attest to the power of series books." Instead, help her make a checklist of all the titles in the series, decorate it, and celebrate as she completes it.

Take a Deeper Dive

In school, kids aren't simply asked to read a book; they're challenged to analyze the characters and plots, points out Primerano. Work with your child to do the same at home. "I've been helping my 7-year-old son compare and contrast the personality traits of the characters in the Scooby-Doo! books and the A-Z Mysteries," says Lisa Cohn, of Portland, Oregon.

Branch Out a Little

What happens when she runs out of her favorite series? Ask librarians to suggest "read-alikes," what they call books with a similar genre (mystery or fantasy, for instance) and reading level. For instance, Bird says, if your kid has powered through the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, she might move on to Timmy Failure and then to The Origami Yoda. "Each of these has a little more writing and less art," she says. Similarly, fans of Magic Tree House may graduate to The Treasure Chest, Junie B. Jones to Dory Fantasmagory, and Harry Potter to the The Iron Trial. You might encourage your child to write a review of the new selection and promise that you'll e-mail it to friends and family.

Set a Goal

Many public libraries, schools, and bookstores have virtual summer reading initiatives. One study at Dominican University, in River Forest, Illinois, found that incoming fourth-graders who took part in a summer library program significantly improved their reading skills. Even if these programs aren’t happening this summer, you could create your own reading challenge and agree on a fun reward (ice cream sundae, anyone?)

If Your Kid is Already an Avid Reader

Follow New Releases

"Kids who read a lot have trouble finding titles they aren't familiar with," says Bird. Learn about what was just published (or will be out soon) from the School Library Journal's 100 Scope Notes. Also check out past winners of the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Awards because they're tailored to this age group," says Dr. Farris. Find the master list at rebeccacaudill.org.

Improve His Comprehension

Kids who read books quickly may not fully understand the plot. "One of my students read Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever but couldn't explain to me what cabin fever is," says Holt. Talk to your son or daughter about how the title relates to the book, discuss any surprising plot twists, and ask whether the ending was satisfying. "Suggest that your child write an alternate conclusion to the book or make a song about it," says Primerano.

Organize a Local Book Swap

"One of my friends just told me that she bought her kid a book at the store and by the time they got home, he said, 'I'm done!'" recalls Bird. So rather than always buying new books for a quickie read, this summer ask a group of friends with children around the same age if they'd each like to bring three to five titles over for the kids to trade. Says Bird: "Kids will ask each other about the books and you'll naturally get the same kind of conversations that go on in the classroom."

Originally published in the July 2015 and July 2020 issues of Parents magazine.

Sources: Richard Allington, Ph.D., past president of the International Literacy Association; Denise Boehm, a second-grade teacher in Weston, Florida;Daniel Willingham, Ph.D., a cognitive scientist at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville.

Parents Magazine

Comments (1)

January 30, 2019
Great article! I completely agree with you. We have been reading to our children from a very young age and they both love reading. They have a very good vocabulary for their age because of all the books we read to them as kids. Their favorite childrens book is "Crazy Shoes: A Book of Poems". It's a collection of poems inspired by, and written for, children, but entertaining for everyone. At school, my kids are reading at a higher level. We are also big supporters of our local library and try to expose our kids to many different types of books. Thank you for all of the great information! Very informative.