Summer Reading Programs

Posted by Administrator on 6/9/2014 to Homeschooling
Has anyone else noticed how much summer reading programs at local libraries have changed over the years? When my oldest sons were young enough to participate (some fifteen years ago now), there were weekly drawings for prizes, and those prizes ranged from gift certificates to a local fast food joint to an art project or toy. Names of participants who had reached their weekly goals were placed into a can, and then a name was drawn randomly each week to receive the prize of his or her choice. Ah, those were the days! Derek won a straw cowboy hat when he was about six (which survived many a gunfight with the imaginary bad guys in our backyard), and Westley won a ten dollar gift card to the newly-opened Target store in our area (which was big money twelve years ago).

Goals were high, so the pool of names from which winners were drawn was relatively small, and the probability of winning was increased dramatically. My older children had to work hard and read a lot of books to achieve the weekly goal that had been set by the local librarians. Or they had to convince their loved ones to read aloud to them to fulfill those weekly goals. Usually there was a certain number of books that had to be read, then weekly slips of paper filled out with the book titles listed on them and a parental signature indicating that the child had actually fulfilled that goal as part of the program. Gradually, however, the program evolved (or devolved?) into a simple signature by a parent or guardian on a small piece of paper that indicated that a child read his specified number of pages as the weekly goal for that student’s age. Now, the child sets his own goals in reading (whether number of books or number of pages), completes the weekly reading slip, and hopes his name gets drawn from the “raffle” bin.

Some of you are probably saying, “So, what’s the big deal? Things haven’t changed that much. The kids still read and still get small prizes as their reward.” While that’s true to some extent, it’s the whole idea of the child setting her or his own reading goals that irks me. It’s another “dumbing down of America” in our academic challenges and pursuits. How likely is it that the average American child, when asked to set his own reading goals for the summer, is going to set challenging goals for himself? By the time they’ve reached the brain-numbed, school-wearied, summer-ready part of the year in which library reading programs begin signing up readers, most students are ready for a break from the rigors of reading and mental conquests. Why labor to read through six long chapter books in a week when you can agree to read one hundred pages as your goal? Or why read books from a certain grade-appropriate reading list when you can choose your own reading fluff of minimal mental requirements?

Okay, I know we’re just talking reading programs. This is not a matter of life or death. It’s not Common Core versus parental curriculum leadership. It’s not the academic injustice of the decade. I get that. But I don’t want my elementary-aged children to get lazy in their summer reading habits, either, and so we’ve had to develop some summer reading goals of our own for each child. For Ben, the energetic Distractionus maximus of the family, we are setting his reading goal as finishing a lesson a week in his phonics reading program. (Remember, he’s the one who is changing the title of Teach Your Child How to Read in 100 Easy Lessons to Teach Your Child How to Read Sometime Before He Is Sixteen.) For Jed, the son who hates touching paper but who needs to be challenged mentally, we are asking him to read a book every two weeks from two selected series of books (Childhood of Famous Americans and The Little House series). For Jen, our social butterfly of the family, we are requiring her to take time away from playing story with the neighbors so that she can spend a minimum of forty-five minutes a day in reading, hoping that three-quarters of an hour will develop her reading comprehension and speed. Jen also has a list of selected books that will fulfill those required forty-five minutes.

Prizes range from week to week, working from little things like stickers and packages of gum, to larger things like a play date at the park of his/her choice or s’mores by the fire. The grand prize is a Daddy Date (in which he takes the child bowling, putt-putt golfing, or just out for a walk by the lake). Dad always makes the event special, you know….

So that’s our summer reading program in Zeezokdom. I’d also like to add a family book that we read aloud each night or at least three times a week, just to keep us in the habit for when we get back to school. (We do a lot of literature-based history reading during the school year.) But we’ll have to see how the summer plays out with our family going on summer missions trips, book shows, church responsibilities, and so forth.

What summer reading programs have you found to be successful? Or what summer reading goals do you set for your family? How do you help encourage your children to keep their reading pace or even improve it during the summer months? And what inexpensive prizes have you discovered that really motivate your children? Share your ideas here!

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