As the end of the school year nears and demands from projects, events and activities peak, I find myself yearning for summer—at least for my kids' sake. Later wake-up times, fewer scheduled activities, and less stress from homework and tests.
While these kids need a short break, I'm not sure who decided that three-month academic respite was a good idea. Because it's not! Even my teacher friends—who would quite possibly give up their third-born child rather than forgo summer vacation—will tell you that a vast amount of knowledge is lost over summer break. And while I really appreciate summer homework packets, come late August, those blank pages usually end up in our backyard fire pit. At least I can burn the evidence of my "mom-fail!"
I'm not a teacher, but I know enough to know that all of our kids should read over the summer, even if it is the only "academic" task they complete. Not only is reading good for their brains, it is also fun and entertaining. Some parents are blessed with kids who love to read, kids who spend hours devouring books. I was blessed with three wiry athletes who prefer to roller blade through my house all day, munching on Cheetos and staring at their iPods.
Anyway, last summer I realized if I was going to get them to read, I needed to get creative. How do most parents succeed in getting their kids to do what they want? Bribery—with a dash of deceit and a pinch of peer pressure. Enter the "Summer Book Club."
Now, I've never belonged to a book club. But from what I hear, most of the time book club is an excuse for women kick up their feet and read a novel, guilt-free. I've also heard drinking wine while discussing said book is important. So I decided to take that same concept and reach out to my fellow mothers. When asked if they would be interested in organizing a summer book club for our kids, they answered with a resounding, "YES! Just let me know what I need to do!"
The concept for our Summer Book Club was pretty simple: Read what we assign and you'll be rewarded with awesome group play dates. Each Book Club member takes a turn hosting—and if you haven't read what was assigned, you can't attend. The result was a huge success! Last summer, my twin boys read nearly every day and it was refreshing to see them with their noses in something other than a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. They loved being in a "club" with their friends and they got to do some pretty fun stuff, too.
Ready to start a Book Club for your kids? Here are some helpful tips to get you started.
STEP 1: Send an e-mail to the parents of your kids' best buds, to see if they are interested. While most will respond favorably, it's important to include some guidelines. They need to agree to hold their child accountable and not let him or her attend the play date unless they've completed their reading. Also, put together a rough schedule and ask them to commit to a date to host. At this time, you may want to determine a "final prize" for the end of the summer, in case you need it for Step 2. We decided that if they participated, we'd let them have a backyard sleepover in tents.
STEP 2: Tell your kids about "this awesome idea their favorite friend's mom had" about the Book Club and that "everyone is doing it." Explain to them that the reading time required won't be over the top, and that they can help with the book selections.
STEP 3: Pick the books. Fortunately for us, one of the moms is a teacher. With help from her school's librarian, she happily put together some great reading options for our soon to be fifth-grade boys. This mom also reserved the books at the library, picked them up and distributed them. (Further evidence that teachers realize how important it is for kids to read over the summer!) If you don't have someone willing to take on this task, each person can certainly check out the books themselves, or buy or download them. A simple search on Pinterest will offer plenty of helpful book ideas based on gender and age. This is your chance to encourage your kids to read something other than their usual favorites! Consider including some classics or books from different categories.
STEP 4: Schedule your meetings ... I mean play dates! Our group planned to meet every two to three weeks. Because summer is busy with vacations, camps, et cetera, if someone couldn't come, it wasn't a big deal. They just needed to read the next assigned chapters by the next meeting.
STEP 5: Make your meetings meaningful, but fun. At the beginning of each meeting, we would attempt to get the boys to discuss the book a for bit—maybe 10 minutes. Often the books will include some discussion questions at the end, or you can find them online. We were pleasantly surprised at how open our boys were to talking about what they'd read and how eager they were to share their thoughts and opinions. Follow it up with plenty of snacks and good old-fashioned summer fun. When they have fun, they'll be sure to do whatever it takes to get to participate in the next meeting.
Want more great tips and tricks to keep your kids reading this summer? Local mom and teacher Carrie TenBrink offers some great ideas in her West Michigan Woman article, Getting Kids to Feel the Need to Read During the Summer.
Written by Jill Carroll, West Michigan Woman marketing manager and mom of three from Cannonsburg, Michigan.