The benefits of early exposure to reading, of parents reading to their children, and kids being surrounded by books have been well-studied. Researchers emphasize that early reading stimulates important language centers and emotion recognition areas of the brain, specifically in the left temporal lobe. They also note that reading enhances academic performance, increases children’s confidence and inspires the life-long skill of curiosity. Hence, if your child is puzzled by a phrase you read together and wonders aloud, “What does that mean?” then you’re on the right track! You are co-creating space for discovery.
However, summers can be hard on kids and families. Routines are disrupted and some expectations for reading might be suspended. Further, like Superman avoiding kryptonite, perhaps your child has tiptoed around the bookshelf for the last month in favor of outdoor fun or screen time. Now, four weeks before school begins, you may find yourself concerned about summer brain drain, wondering, “Does my child still remember how to read?” or “are there skills I can work on to best prepare for the upcoming school year?” Here are five tips for bringing books back into your child’s summer experience:
1. Create (or restore) a nightly routine that includes reading.
While summer camping trips and other fun activities may interfere, insofar as possible try to establish the same nightly routine your family will have during the school year. In general, this should involve turning off screens in two hours before bed, perhaps a warm bath or shower, then snuggling into bed. For young children this is a great time for them to read to you and then to be read to by parents. I encourage parents to continue reading to their children even after children have learned. This a great time for bonding and for helping you polish your voice acting chops – experimenting with villain voices can be especially hilarious. This also allows your child’s vocabulary to flourish and for children to enjoy increasingly sophisticated stories they may grow frustrated reading alone.
2. Chart progress and incentivize reading.
Libraries in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties have reading incentive programs with prizes. It’s not too late to participate. In addition, some local bookstores are offering coupons for reading books over the summer with no book purchases necessary. So, your child could potentially read library books and use the coupon for that little Pusheen cat doll they’ve been coveting!
3. Taking a road trip: audiobooks!
While tablets or movies in the car may be enjoyable for kids, one way that parents and children can enjoy stories together – and have a shared experience to reflect upon when you arrive at your destination – is to listen to audiobooks.
4. Comic books are books. Summer blockbusters = great reading!
This summer offers myriad films inspired by comics: “Wonder Woman,” “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Spiderman Homecoming.” If your family chooses to enjoy one of these summer blockbusters, you might read the comic books that inspired them. For younger kids who want to watch the movie with older siblings but may find some of the images frightening, it can be helpful to get ahold of the graphic novel adaptation and read this with them before they watch the movie. After the movie, you can look at different writers and artists who take on the same characters. One fun aspect of reading comics with your kids is that it demonstrates that movies are not canonical; they do not represent the only way of viewing a character or myth. For example, the Caucasian Peter Parker is not the only version of Spiderman and some children may find themselves relating more easily to Miles Morales, a Spiderman with African-American and Hispanic roots.
5. Not only are comic books really books, but they are also passionate, empathy–enhancing works that are not just about superheroes!
As with healthy foods, I fervently believe that comic books are an “anytime snack,” but they are particularly good for summer reading. To learn more about the benefits of comics (along with some recommended reading according to age/interest), click here!
We’d love to hear your thoughts! Was this helpful? How do you raise summer readers in these digital days? What are you and your children reading? Leave a comment below to let us know!
Craigan Usher, M.D.
Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Program Director, Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Training