Summer Reading Challenge without The Carrot & Stick

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It’s summer time once again and homeschooling parents everywhere are thinking about how to keep the academics fresh in their students’ minds and how to keep kids reading throughout the summer.

Summer reading programs abound whether it’s the library, the bookstore, or even the local pizza shop.

Everyone wants to add up the books read and hand out the rewards. 

What are the summer reading plans for your homeschool this year?

What if we shatter the paradigm on summer reading and require it without the baiting?

How would that look?

Don’t Be Afraid to Assign Reading

Parents worry a lot about assigning reading to their kids. We want our kids to love to read and we believe that if we make our kids read, they can’t possibly learn to love it. However, there is evidence to suggest that required reading is pretty important.

  • The Read Aloud Handbook– Jim Trelease in his book about how reading aloud affects children as readers, specifically tells us not to be afraid to require reading from our kids. After all, practice makes a better reader no matter who we are or how well we read. Ben Carson is a classic example of this. The story goes that his mother, who only had a 3rd grade education, turned off the TV on Ben and his brother and required them to read and write about what they read. The rest, as they say, is history.
  • Getting the Most out of Your Homeschool Summer– This book talks about taking a break for the summer and making sure you take a break even if you school year round, but the author also recommends using the summer for purposeful reading for your students. Many resources, including this one, mention the book lists for college bound students. This is a great time to check some of them off and add them to the finished list.
  • Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations– Written by Alex & Brett Harris, this book is all about showing teens they have a lot to offer and how they can break through the stereotypes of the typical teenager today. When they were 16 and and their debating days were coming to a close, their father put the boys on an intense reading program for the summer. The stack of huge books included titles on varying topics such as history, philosophy, theology, sociology, science, business, journalism, and globalization. They read a lot of the time that summer and the more they read, the more excited they became of the ideas they were learning about. Wanting to do something about these ideas, eventually led to their website- The Rebelution.

The point is just because our kids may not choose to read, that doesn’t mean we should shy away from assigning it. I’ve seen many students get excited about a topic or a book when they’ve been told to read it. If our kids, especially the ones not inclined to read on their own, are never stretched to new places in books, their experience will become limited and they will miss out.

The more limited our language is, the more limited we are; the more limited the literature we give to our children, the more limited their capacity to respond, and therefore, in their turn, to create. The more our vocabulary is controlled, the less we will be able to think for ourselves. We do think in words, and the fewer words we know, the more restricted our thoughts. As our vocabulary expands, so does our power to think. – Madeline L’Engle

Blog She Wrote: Summer Reading Challenge without The Carrot & Stick

Avoid the Carrot & Stick Approach to Summer Reading

That’s not to say you have to forgo any sort of summer reading fun, but connecting book reading directly with a reward seems counter intuitive. If you have more than one child, it gets cumbersome to keep track of and it feels a lot like coercion. Here are some other tried and true ideas for encouraging reading:

  • Enjoy reading books together– Change things up so kids aren’t always reading alone. When my readers were at the emergent stage, I often would read with them. They would read a portion and I would read some and we’d take turns. This way reading isn’t always a solitary activity.
  • Have book discussions– Engage with your kids about the books they are reading. Let them know you’ll talk about the chapter they’ve read for the day and ask them what they think. It’s easy to get simple answers, but try to draw the story out of your child and offer some insight as you go. This is a great way to check up on how your kids are understanding what they read and it’s done in an authentic conversational sort of way.
  • Form a summer book club– We’ve had a girl’s book club going all year and their June selection is Frankenstein. Book clubs let kids come together to talk about a book and they are more willing to read titles outside of their usual experience. Forming a summer book club is a fun way to encourage kids to read. Of course, there are plenty of activities that go with book club gatherings so prepare to insert some fun!
Blog, She Wrote: Summer Reading Challenge without The Carrot & Stick

Summer Reading Resources & Ideas

There is no shortage of summer reading ideas. Here are a few for inspiration:

  • Ultimate Guide to Establishing a Reading Culture in Your Home– This ultimate post has so many ideas for building a reading environment in your home- from babies to high schoolers. Don’t miss this resource. You’ll find resources for any time of year including the summer.
  • Book Wagon– I really enjoyed this creative idea from another blogger. Fill a wagon with favorite titles and new ones and take your books on the road to a picnic or in the yard under a favorite tree.
  • Set up Your Home Library– Make sure your home library is engaging for your kids. Rotate titles, get new titles and make use of eReaders!
  • Give eReader Surprises– Make ample use of your Kindle and surprise the kids now and then with a new title. You can check your library for titles or keep an eye out for Kindle deals. I have a Pinterest board on eReader Homeschooling which has a lot of ebook resources all in one spot.
  • Five Reasons to Use an eReader Kindle– I have found our Kindles to be invaluable in our homeschool. If you haven’t given one serious though, here are some compelling reasons. I find myself using the library less and grabbing an ebook in 10 seconds which costs less than the price of gas to get to the library!
  • Five Reasons to Use a Tablet Kindle– This little affordable tablet is a great tool for listening to audio books, watching video, and reading text clearly. I didn’t imagine how useful this tool would be for our homeschool.
Blog, She Wrote: Summer Reading Challenge without The Carrot & Stick

Summer Reading Challenges

If you are going to set a reading challenge before your kids this summer, consider bringing them to the table to have input on their challenge. If you know that will not be productive or you have something in mind (like Mr. Harris), then forge ahead and put together a reading list for your children. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • Set a Number– Simply set a number of books they must read. However, you will want to add some parameters such as “new books” or ” a particular genre”. Assign four books for the month but they must be new titles. Be creative about how to set a number and see it through. Take the challenge with your kids!
  • Classics– Assign a certain number of classic titles. If your kids haven’t read much in the classic arena, then the sky is the limit on choices. You can suggest tales of intrigue and adventure or any other type of story your student might like. So many of these are great stories which are rarely read because they intimidate. Shake the reputation and select a few this summer.
  • Set a Time for Reading– Rather than focusing on the number of books tackled, focus on the amount of time you read daily. That will take care of numbers in the end most likely if you are consistent. If your kids aren’t inclined to read on their own, you can read at the same time. What better way to get your extra reading in during the summer. Once the habit is set and you feel your kids are enjoying the time, you can relax and let them choose a time. However, my boys love to read and it is still a great practice to set a time. Otherwise, they may always find other things to do!
  • Set Your Own Summer Reading Goal– And join your kids in the reading challenge. I know I always have books I want to read and re-read during the summer. What better way to meet your own goal than to join your kids in meeting theirs? Research shows that seeing parents read has a positive effect on children’s reading. Let them see you making reading a priority this summer!

I have grown so weary of the trinket based programs that try and encourage reading. Require your kids to read. Just like you require them to eat their vegetables. Don’t worry about your kids being turned off to reading because you require it. We don’t have to love to read. We just have to do it.

More on Ways to Set Summer Reading Goals with your Teens

stack of books on a table in front of a bookshelf with a laptop behind it

Be real with them and enjoy discussions based on the books they are reading. Gather kids together and make books engaging for the sake of the story. But stop with the prizes. They don’t make readers.

So, let’s join the challenge together.

Make reading a part of your summer without meticulously counting books and making it a race.

Simply set some goals– either together or on your own and make it happen.

Happy Reading!


More on the Topic of Reading with Teens

Reading is one of the best ways we can spend time with our out of the box and neurodivergent teens.

Discussions about shared story worlds are the best in the teen years and beyond!

So, it’s worth your investment during the high school years to keeping reading to them or have them read to you and to give them time to read on their own.

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  1. I love this! I have a 5 year old and a 4 year old. My oldest doesn’t nap anymore, so instead he has a hour of reading time each afternoon. I thought it was funny when I looked at the library summer reading sheet and saw that my son could have the whole thing filled out in no time! I think that part of the benefit of requiring reading (not necessarily specific books) is helping a child to love reading!

    1. Thank Amy,

      Yes, the library, in my experience, is into volume not necessarily quality. I often find librarians so glad to see people reading that they sell out a little on content. That’s just my opinion…

      Keep those kids reading!

  2. Heather, love this post – pinned it way back when you first published and coming back to it now ’cause you have so many titles shown that we have too – and some that we don’t 😉 Wondered what your thoughts are on the Eragon series for my 12yo son. He’s read some of the LOTR – but took a break for a while. Also, if you have any other book suggestions for boys about his age, I’d love your ideas. I hesitate to give him books with too much drama and gory details as he is a titch sensitive still – but a great reader and will truly immerse himself if interested – kwim 🙂 There’s many books that his older 15yo has read, but he’s just not quite ready for those yet. Thanks for any help and for your post 🙂

    1. Thank you Meredith! Eragon has quite a bit of detail on death, war. My 15yo is behind me telling me the author does not shy away from the details of war. A few of the characters are pretty dramatic. However, if you can get past that the stories are among our kids’ favorites.

      As for ideas, has he read the Redwall series? Ranger’s Apprentice? Percy Jackson series? Brotherband Chronicles? Heros of Olympus and the King Chronicles are all favorites here. Watership Down is one my daughter loves and she’s read these others. My 9yo loves the audio of Watership Down. Maybe this would make a great post. : )

      1. Heather, thanks for the reply – yes, he’s read most of the Redwall series and just by your description of Eragon, I think we’ll wait on that. He is probably ready for the first Percy Jackson, although the last one is not happening here anytime soon 😉 My 15yo really enjoyed the Ranger’s Apprentice, so maybe the younger boy can try that one too. Appreciate all your suggestions – happy Sunday!

  3. I am a reader and it was a main goal to have my children be readers, too. And they are! 🙂 Our trouble is keeping enough books handy, especially over the summer. I’m gonna have to take a look at your articles about getting a Kindle. I’ve been avoiding getting one on principle, but I can see it would make the task of providing good books easier… (and I never thought about comparing the price of the Kindle books to the price of gas — good one!) 🙂

    1. Ann, the Kindle is the BEST. 30 seconds later a kid is reading and there was no hassle involved. Classics are free for the most part and sales happen all the time. I even have to pay for parking at the library so a Kindle book now and then is a good investment for us. All the kids have them now and they read a lot.

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