Parents: How to Best Optimize Your Child’s Last Days of Summer

by Doro Bush Koch, Huffpost

During the months of July and August, retail stores fill their shelves with back-to-school items as they prepare for a new school year. Yet, while the long days of summer are still here, it’s never too late to enjoy time with family, friends and a really good book. Encouraging our children to read during the summer is important to keep their brains active and help them learn in a casual, stress-free environment.

When I was a child and the youngest of five, I remember my mom would let us explore and spend plenty of time playing outside in the summer; however, she would always make sure that we read our books at home. She made reading a fun activity, and at the dinner table, she would ask questions about what we were reading. She also let us choose our own books. She was an avid reader herself, and later as First Lady, became a leading literacy advocate. What I learned from my mom and passed on to my own children was that summer should also be a time of learning, when a child can choose their own reading adventure.

While the summer may be winding down, and many of us are anticipating the rush of the school year, parents still have some time to help their children read for fun everyday.

The benefits of encouraging our children to read through the summer are substantial. Reading keeps our children’s minds engaged and helps to build their vocabulary. For younger children, parents can read books aloud. In fact, children whose parents read to them as young children were exposed to 30,000 more vocabulary words than children whose parents did not read to them. According to a study by Hart and Risley, that equates to 1,500 more spoken words on average per hour than children from low-literate homes.

Reading is a year-round activity and is instrumental in a child’s life. A recent Scholastic survey found that half of all children (51 percent) aged 6-17 are currently reading a book for fun and another one in five or 20 percent just finished one.

Some children are not reading at all, and others consider it a chore to read. As parents, we can help them discover the joys of reading by creating a positive reading environment. Summertime provides extra time to build strong reading skills — an important predictor of a child’s future success.

Nearly two-thirds of children who are infrequent readers agree: “I would read more if I could find more books I like.” The Barbara Bush Foundation has summer reading suggestions from a variety of lists on Goodreads on its Facebook page. With one in three parents saying they would like help finding books, these lists may serve as a positive reading nudge to round out the summer.

What is a parent’s recipe for a positive reading experience for their children, especially during the summer? The key ingredient is their (parental) involvement in a child’s reading process. Other elements for success include encouraging children to pick their own book, building a home library and helping them discover their own interests. All of these activities motivate and foster healthy reading habits. If a parent demonstrates a joy in reading, their child most likely will follow their example.

The objective is to guide the most reluctant child to pick their own book and schedule time to read everyday, while setting goals and giving rewards for finishing a book.

Every child is different. As parents, we can also help our children discover the joys of reading by having conversations and asking questions about each book they read. Reading can also become a bonding experience for both parent and child, which can lead to fascinating conversations on a variety of topics, from dragons to princesses.

There is a book for every child. As parents, we can help them discover the joys of reading and learning even on a hot summer day. Find a great title to help your child escape, explore, and enter into something new this summer. There’s still plenty of time!

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