How to Get Kids to Read Over Summer Vacation

My “get kids to read” trick isn’t that complicated: Artfully and conveniently arrange books with attractive graphics to catch their attention and use classic texts to encourage reading. (Specific recommendations at the link.)

In the couple of years I’ve used this trick, I’ve learned a few things. First, my love of Usborne has grown. My only complaint is that they should make the bindings stronger. The books get so much use that the paper binding is no match for the heavy paper, the thick covers, and the constant manipulation.

Second, long screen breaks are essential to success. Until reading books—not tablets, but books—is an established habit, the tablet will always win. 

Screen time has more consequences than just the opportunity cost of time. It changes how kids learn to relate to the world, as Susan Goldberg described here. For those with young children, hold off on screen introductions as long as possible (note: what is possible shrinks after the first child). One could have the entire family go screen-free, but that is too isolating in the modern world. Once the screen time seal is broken, it is easier to set and enforce long screen time breaks then daily rules. It is also more effective.

Third, with older kids, try to let them self-regulate as much as possible. I do not nag them to read.

Based upon previous summers, Christmas breaks, and Lents, this summer I’ve set up a system of a few hours of screen time a week—after chores. They have to self-report and getting caught under-reporting results in forfeiting the rest of their hours for the week. Beyond that, I rely on the book placement to draw them in. If When they complain of boredom, I come up with chores or kick them outside. I find the less I verbally encourage reading, the more reading they do. Part of this is because my husband and I read a lot (I have moved to reading more hardcopies because when I’m reading a novel on my tablet I’m modeling screen time to my kids), but part is passive reverse psychology. If I’m pushing outside or chores, then reading becomes the option that makes the kid feel like he chose what to do himself.

Remember the Calvin and Hobbes strip about snake research? “If nobody makes you do it, it counts as fun.”

This method doesn’t work in a day. But it works in a summer.