The University of Iowa

A Chore No More: Make Summer Reading Enjoyable With Family-Oriented Approaches

movie night UI campus

Families can make reading fun by connecting it to summer traditions, like reading a book and attending a screening of the movie adaptation at community outdoor movie night.


Posted on: June 20, 2017

With schools on summer break, children and parents alike may be inclined to relax, rejuvenate, and forget all about school work. For some, that could include finding the long-lost novel you have been waiting to read all year and enjoying it while poolside, or searching out a new literary series to devour in your free time.

But for many school-aged children, summer literally means a vacation from books and reading. There is value in relaxing and rejuvenating over the summer, but we also want to emphasize that we cannot box up our identities as learners—and especially as readers—just because school is out of session. Cahill and Horvath (2013) state that without school support, students may stop reading over the summer and, therefore, appear to lose gains made during the school year (what is often referred to as the “summer slide”). Teachers perceive this phenomenon each fall when they must spend time reintroducing their students to literacy routines and the habit of reading all over again. As Cahill and Horvath write, “It is as if we are taking two steps forward during the school year and one step backward during the summer” (p. 3). Just as IRRC Director Dr. Deborah K. Reed stated in her May 9 blog post on the concept of summer learning loss, it is not actually true that students are losing knowledge over the summer. On the contrary, they may be learning, but that learning might not be about traditional school topics or might be occurring at slower rates than when they are in school. Therefore, it appears when they return to school in the fall that they are farther behind their peers who were actively engaged in literacy-focused activities during the summer.

So how do you keep your child motivated to learn over the summer in meaningful ways without resorting to bribery? Lately, I have noticed postings on social media of summer checklists itemizing all the chores that need to be done before a child can do something fun. The list may include reading and writing for 20 minutes mixed in with making your bed, brushing your teeth, and eating breakfast. Reducing reading and writing to an item on a to-do list signals they are not something to enjoy, but to get out of the way before you move on to bigger and better things. We need to reverse this approach and help build reading identities in our children that are not connected solely to school or checklists. Below are a variety of ways to make summer reading a blast instead of a chore and keep our children moving forward instead of slipping back.

Fun Ways for Families and Children to Connect With Reading

Participate in a Summer Reading Program at Your Library or School

Over the summer, most local libraries have summer reading programs. They provide weekly activities and story hours to get children excited about reading. Research has shown summer reading programs can be beneficial for students’ overall love and enthusiasm for reading (Evaluation and Training Institute, 2001; Justice, Piasta, Capps, Levitt, & Columbus Metropolitan Library, 2013), can sustain and at times increase school reading growth (Roman, Carran, & Fiore, 2010), and can encourage parental involvement and time spent with books for children of all ages (Celano, & Neuman, 2001; Knapp, 2016). Not only will summer reading programs encourage children to read, but they may introduce them to a whole new genre of books. If children participate weekly in summer reading programs, they may hear about different books from the library staff during read alouds or short book talks. Maybe up until this point, they have only read fantasy books, but the library staff piques their interest with a new informational book on robots.

Have a Family Book Club Experience

You have decided to participate in the summer reading program at your local library. Everyone in the family has a book they are reading on their own. What do you do when someone finishes a book? Check it off the list and move on to the next one? What if as a family, you decided to pick one common book a month to read and then had a book club meeting? Not only would it get you connected as a family toward a common goal, but also it would strengthen your child’s enthusiasm for reading, as well as their ability to discuss ideas with a group. Book clubs are more than the mysterious night where mom goes to meet with a bunch of friends and talk for the evening. They allow participants to increase their overall comprehension of the text as well as practice their communication skills. Forming opinions on what they liked or did not like about the book, how reading it made them feel and why, what stood out to them, and being able to explain those opinions are skills good readers use when talking about books with others.

As a family, pick a book to which all ages could relate and decide on a date for the book club meeting. It can be a book everyone in the family can read on their own or one that you may need to read out loud for some family members. Either way, read the book and come together to talk about it. Make it a celebration. Provide food and drinks, and perhaps even decorations to match the theme of the book. It may be helpful to have a few questions and sentence stems to get the conversation going:

Sentence Stems

When the character said _________, it made me feel _________.

When the character did _________, it made me feel _________.

I think the character is _________ because in the story ______________.

My favorite part of the book was _______ because ________.

I didn’t like ___________.


What did you wonder about?

What were you thinking as you were reading?

What did this remind you of in your own life? How did it differ? Why do you think it did?

What part of the story was most powerful? Why?

What was your favorite part of the book? Why?

How do you think the character felt about _______? Why?

Would you suggest this book to someone else to read? What would you say to them?

Audio Books in the Car Instead of a Movie

For most families, summer can be a busy time. Running from one sporting event or family outing to another means lots of time driving. If you are like me, reading in the car is nearly impossible; it causes motion sickness almost instantly. Instead, I spend most of my driving time listening to audiobooks. Often, I am so wrapped up in my book that when I arrive at my destination, I must sit for a bit until I get to a good stopping place. Think of how rewarding it would be if as a family you could listen to an audiobook this summer while driving. Not only does it hopefully prevent the dreaded “are we there yet?” question by providing entertainment, but also it provides an easy avenue into talking about the book and asking questions such as the following:

  • What are your favorite parts?
  • Why do you think the main character decided to do what he/she did? What do you think will happen next?

Take Reading With You All the Time

I hear a lot of my friends complain about the overuse of electronic devices in their homes over the summer and how it is nearly impossible to get their children offline. To help alleviate the excessive use of electronics and promote reading and discussion, I suggest keeping a bag full of a variety of books that can reside in the home and easily be tossed in the car when you travel. That way, there always will be a book available for children who are bored at home or for reading while you are at a ballgame, at the park, camping, or fishing. Growing up, my mom was the best model of this practice for me and my siblings. She always had a book close by that she could read, and partly because of this, we all love to read. It was not uncommon to see my family camping or fishing, all of us with books in our hands. Now, as adults and with our own families, we take books with us wherever we go, just in case we have time to get in a little reading.

For those who are concerned about finding enough books to keep their families reading, consider using reading apps that allow you to check out books to read on your electronic devices. Many libraries use these apps to loan e-books to patrons to read on a tablet or e-reader. Do not be overwhelmed; just grab a book bag, toss in your e-reader and hard copies, and off you go. You are now ready to hand a book to the first person who proclaims he or she is bored. This will decrease the use of electronics (except for e-reading purposes) and prepare your family to talk about what they are reading. It may even promote reading among your friends as they see your family engaging in reading, no matter the setting.

Read/Listen to a Book and Then Watch the Movie

Every year, new movies are released as adaptations of a book. In fact, there are now a variety of fantastic books or series that have been made into feature films that you could spend the entire summer reading books and watching great movies as a family. Local movie theaters often run book-adapted children’s movies for reduced rates in the summer, and communities host outdoor movie nights that often show book-adapted films. Contact your cinemas and parks and recreation departments so that you can plan to read the book as a family prior to the film screening, perhaps as your book club selection. After you see the movie together, you can talk about the differences: what you liked or did not like about each version, and what you wished was added or taken out of the movie. You could even make it into a block party or friends-and-family book club where you host the viewing at your own outdoor theater by projecting the movie on the side of your home, fence, or screen for all to see.

Visit the Places About Which You Are Reading

united states atlas

Looking for a vacation idea this summer? A trip to a destination related to a book your children are reading can motivate them to read on.

Good readers make books come alive in their minds. They see the characters and settings vividly as if they were right there in the moment. What a treat it would be for young readers to visit the settings of their books. If your reader loves reading about horses, perhaps a visit to Chincoteague Island, Virginia, where author Marguerite Henry based her novel Misty of Chincoteague on an actual wild pony from the area. If you are an Anne of Green Gables fan, you could travel to Prince Edward Island, Canada, to see the land from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s stories. Or a little closer to home, visit a few of the areas Laura Ingalls Wilder described in her Little House on the Prairie books. You can travel from Wisconsin to South Dakota, stopping in Minnesota and Iowa, to experience several of the locations where Wilder grew up and subsequently wrote about, such as Plum Creek and Silver Creek. Perhaps your reader is interested in Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn books. A stop at historic Hannibal, Missouri, where Mark Twain wrote about the many adventures of those boys, would bring the books to life.

Researching and Planning Your Trip

You may not be planning a long trip, but perhaps several short outdoor family trips for camping, fishing, or hiking activities. What better way to learn about the different aspects of your trip than by reading a book? Before you leave, gather books about the flora and fauna of the area, books about local hiking trails or parks, backpacking guides, survival guides for camping, and fishing books for suggested areas to fish and types of tackle needed.

Growing up, whenever we went on vacation, I took it upon myself to collect handfuls of the interesting brochures about places to visit. Then I would read them, deciding on which attraction our family should visit next. To this day, my sister has a somewhat similar approach when it comes to planning a trip. She researches and reads about every destination and plans a route for the family to take so they can see as much of the listed itinerary as possible. I personally thought this was how every family planned trips—reading, researching, and then going to see them. It may be a new approach to vacationing for your family, but you will learn a great deal about the areas you are visiting. It also provides an opportunity for your child to learn how to research, plan an agenda, and map out a trip. To include writing in your summer literacy experiences, have your child write a travel guide for other families to follow so they too could enjoy the adventures.


Cahill, C., & Horvath, K. (2013). I know what you didn’t do last summer. In E. O. Keene & N. K. Duke (Eds.), No more summer-reading loss (pp. 1-14). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Celano, D., & Neuman, S. B. (2001). The Role of Public Libraries in Children’s Literacy Development: An Evaluation Report. Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Library Association.

Evaluation and Training Institute (2001). Evaluation of the public library summer reading program: Books and beyond… take me to your reader! | Full report

Justice, L. M., Piasta, S. B., Capps, J. L., Levitt, S. R., & Columbus Metropolitan Library (2013). Library-based summer reading clubs: Who participates and why? The Library Quarterly, 83(4), 321-340. | Full text

Knapp, N. F. (2016). Reading Together: A Summer Family Reading Apprenticeship Program for Delayed and Novice Readers. Literacy Research and Instruction, 55(1), 48-66. 

Roman, S., Carran, D. T., & Fiore, C. D. (2010). The Dominican study: Public library summer reading programs close the reading gap. River Forest, IL: Dominican University Graduate School of Library & Information Science | Full report