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Red Hot Summer Reading
By Carolyn R. Tomlin

  Five-year-old Josh, his parents and grandparents attended his kindergarten graduation. As Josh received an award for checking out and reading the most easy-reading books during the school year, they felt gratitude towards his excellent teacher. As an early reader, Josh had progressed beyond most of his classmates in his ability to sound out letters and master automatic word recognition. Reading opened up new windows of opportunity for Josh and provided him with endless hours of entertainment and pleasure. After receiving congratulations from his family, he was overheard to say, “Now that I don’t have school, I can read even more!” 

     Hugging her son, his mother smiled and said, “Let’s stop by the library on the way home and check out some new books. Your father and I could use some new books, too!”

    Do you think that when Josh begins school in the fall, he’ll move beyond his end of kindergarten test score? Or, will he, like many other youngsters, fall behind? How do parents influence their child’s love of reading? How can parents provide an incentive to make books a child’s friend? And, could a special “reading site” make a difference?

Research shows that 30 percent of what a child learns during the school year is lost during the summer if parents fail to provide appropriate learning situations. The same can be said for reading. Reading, by definition, means gaining meaning from print, not just pronouncing the words (Y. Goodman and A. Marek, 1996).


Parental Influence on Reading

Do parents who read have children who enjoy reading? Yes, as a rule. Try a variety of reading activities this summer to make this a family venture, such as:

  • Plan a family literacy night, during which you use a “big book” demonstration. For non-readers, talk about the various parts of a book, including the cover, title page, beginning, middle and end. Allow the child to help turn pages (Cairney and Munsie, 1995). 
  • Let your child see you read. Subscribe to the local newspaper, check our library books, enroll in a book club and participate in a book review. Your attitude toward books makes an impression on your child. 
  • Know what your child reads. Discuss the book during and after he has completed the story. Ask open-ended questions that require more than a “Yes” or “No” answer, such as “Tell me your favorite part,” or, “How would you change the ending?” 
  • Enroll your child in a book club. As order forms arrive in the mail, help your child select a book they would enjoy and which is appropriate for their reading level.  
  • Plan regular trips to the library. Keep library books in a special bag for easy returns. Also, help your child post the return date on a calendar – a simple way to teach him responsibility.  

Incentives to Make Books a Child’s Friend

Why do children enjoy books? What makes a book special for a child? A teacher of young children says, “Children who enjoy reading have an advantage over those who do not. Parents and teachers unlock the door to the wonderful world of literature. As an educator, I know that reading forms the foundation for learning. To expose children to books, I place selections on a low shelf so they are highly visible. This collection is changed weekly, but favorites are kept longer. Unlike adults, children enjoy the same book read over and over. This is because they know what will happen next; they are comfortable with the familiar. 

     Adults can offer incentives to encourage reading by enrolling children in summer library programs. Often libraries provide a tote bag, certificates, award ribbons for the most books read in their age level, recognition in local newspapers and end-of-summer picnic for participants.  In programs such as this, everyone’s a winner. That’s because reading skills have been increased and the child has been exposed to different authors and varied interests.

     Another incentive combines art with reading. Provide a variety of markers or crayons, paper, paste and scissors. After reading a book, ask the child to draw a favorite illustration from the text. Display the artwork in a prominent place in the home. Or, send the extended family, grandparents or friends the drawing. Personalized books tempt even the most reluctant reader. What young child could resist a book that includes their first name, his birthday and features his pet? 


Special Reading Sites

It’s true, reading can take place almost anywhere; a desk, kitchen table, propped up in bed or under a shade tree on a warm summer day. However, creative parents who want to add a little something special to a child’s love of reading can use some of the following ideas.

  • To make a Beanpole Hide-a-way, first build a frame, resembling a teepee, from eight five-foot-long bamboo or wooden stakes. Insert the evenly placed stakes in the ground around a four-foot in diameter circle. Tie them together at the top. Tie several cross stakes near the ground for support. Leave an opening for a door. Dig small holes on the outside perimeter of the circle. Help your child plant 2 or 3 pole bean seeds, such as “Kentucky Wonder” near each stake -- following package directions. Fertilize with a vegetable type fertilizer. Gently guide new tendrils to the stakes as the beans grow. In a month to 6 weeks, your child will have her own bean house for hours of uninterrupted reading (S. Bennett and R. Bennett, 1993). 
  • A Raised platform in a child’s bedroom provides a special nook for quiet times with books. If bunk beds are part of the room, turn the top level into a retreat. Throw several soft pillows, stuffed animals and a reading light into a cozy corner.   
  • Generations of children remember the old-fashion hammock tied between two shade trees for summer reading pleasure. Under this canopy of greenery, one could pretend to be the “ship captain” or “the girl on the flying trapeze.”  
  • Try this recipe for creative reading: Dry out the bathtub, fill with soft pillows, add some picture books or easy readers and stir in one or more children. You’re sure to make memories and don’t be surprised if bathtub reading is a repeat request. 
  • Check yard sales or thrift stores for large beanbags. Place in a quiet corner of your home or your child’s room. Provide colorful tote bags filled with favorite books nearby.  
  • Build a tree house in your backyard. Parents who have basic carpenter skills can turn a weekend project into a special gift for their child. Make it as elaborate or as simple as time and resources allow. Adults know this fact: Books allow the reader to escape into another world, and so do tree houses. 
  • For a simple reading site, turn a card table into a private nook. Throw a sheet or blanket over the table, long enough to touch the floor. Add a safe lamp and your child will find this hide-away a fun place to enjoy books.


The time a parent invests in education determines the success or failure of that child, and reading is the key to a sound education. Parents who encourage a child to read make a difference in whether the child struggles through school or masters developmental tasks. Successful reading may even determine if your child is later admitted to one of the better universities. You have the opportunity to develop skills that will last a lifetime. Make summer reading a part of your child’s daily life.


Carolyn R. Tomlin has been the director of an early childhood program, taught pubic school kindergarten and assistant professor of education at Union University, Jackson, TN. Currently, she contributes to numerous education publications.



Sidebar/Web Sites Resources

The following are only a few of the Internet sites that offer children’s books, some at reduced prices.


Bennett, S. and R. Bennett (1993). 365 Outdoor Activities You Can Do With Your Child. Holbrook, MA: Bob Adams, Inc.

Cairney, Trevor H. and Lynne Munsie. “Parent Participation in Literacy Learning.” Reading Teacher 48 (February 1995): 392-403)

Goodman, Y. and A. Marek (1996). Retrospective Miscue Analysis: Revaluing Readers and Reading. Katonah, NY: Richard C. Owens. 

Hohmann M. & D. P. Weikart (2002). Educating Young Children: Active Learning Practices for Preschool and Child Care Programs, 2nd ed. Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press.

Ranweiler, L.W. (2004). Preschool Readers and Writers—Early Literacy Strategies for Teachers. Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press.