The Summer Reading Program: Help Them Dig It, Not Dread It!
May 20, 2013
It’s that time of year again, the time when eager young readers plunge into their favorite books and earn prizes for meeting their reading goals. Every year thousands of kids and teens take part in Mid-Continent Public Library’s Summer Reading Program (SRP). Now, I won’t get started on how jealous I am of them. The fact that there was nothing like this when I was growing up, and knowing how I would have cleaned up in a program like this, would just be unnecessary bitterness. So, let me move on. After working SRP for over a decade now, I have come to recognize three different types of participants: the Eager Reader, the Reluctant Reader, and the Struggling Reader. And you can identify each based on how they come to the desk.
Firstly, the Eager Reader is the easiest to spot. They practically run to the free books the second they arrive and begin checking out the title they want. They are the ones who have the big grins on their faces, and they make sure you know that they will not only earn every incentive but will go beyond that. They delight every time they earn another sticker for yet another list, even though they can no longer receive a free book. They can also have a bit of competitive streak. I have even been asked many times if anyone has read as much as them, and if someone has, they make sure to read more. These are the readers that just make your day.
Then you have the Reluctant Reader. These are the kids that have obviously been dragged into the Library by their parents. Instead of smiles, you can get scowls and eye rolls. Choosing the book they wish to take can be a long process because they can’t seem to find anything that interests them (many times I have seen them simply choose something for a sibling). You can clearly see that Mom or Dad are annoyed, and you can imagine them cajoling their child back home to just read a few more pages every day. For the Reluctant Reader, books are just another chore and SRP is no different to them than a homework assignment. It's just in the summer when school should be out.
Finally, you have the Struggling Reader. When they approach, you can almost see the disappointment in their faces when they realize that so many kids have already finished their last list, while they are still working on their first. And it makes it even worse if they have a sibling, especially a younger one, who is way ahead of them in the program. You can tell that they do enjoy books but have trouble reading at the same pace as others. For them, SRP can be an exercise in frustration and embarrassment, especially when they know that everyone else will be earning several books during the summer while they will have to work hard to receive just one.
For the Reluctant and Struggling Readers, SRP brings different challenges. So how can we help them both? To begin with, finding the right reading material is essential. The first thing I do when any parent asks me to recommend a book for their child is to ask what interests them. I don't want to know what kind of books they like to read but what kind of things they like in life. Once you know what a kid is into, you are guaranteed to find some sort of book that will hold their attention. Now, the desire to put a Newbery Winner into a child’s hands can be overwhelming. After all, we all want our kids to read good material. However, unless you want to make reading into something like going to the dentist, save the award books for later and start with something fun.
Secondly, if a reader is struggling, their progress shouldn’t be compared to other kids, especially their siblings. This could make not participating in SRP at all much more attractive, and we don’t want that. Instead, each child’s goals should be separate. Unfortunately, I have seen parents pressuring Struggling Readers into keeping up with their brothers and sisters, when it is clear they are truly doing their best. Instead, focus on their individual accomplishments and make sure they know that in the end it is not about how many books you earn but the fun you have had along the way.
As much as the Summer Reading Program is about getting kids to read, it is mostly about getting kids to love reading. That can’t happen if they dread the coming of summer. SRP should be about having fun and exploring books that kids can enjoy. The last thing we want is for them to walk away hating reading even more because they are being forced to do it. This will make them stop reading the second they no longer have parents or teachers telling them to. So this summer, emphasize the fun. Make the SRP an adventure, not an assignment.