“So, what have you been reading this summer that has been interesting?” I ask the unsuspecting 12 year old nephew sitting in the passenger seat of my mini-van. I often start sentences with, “I just read an article that said…” and my kids start to roll their pre-teen eyes. But in the mini-van, my nephew has entered my lair and my younger children perk up from the back seat waiting for his answer. No matter who gets in my car this summer, what that person is reading (or wants to read) is very likely going to be one of the major points of conversation. Over the years, I have found that it works especially well with middle school children to get the conversation going.
I LOVE reading, but I know that not all people do—especially in the middle school years where there are many more distractions for students both online and outside. And that is precisely why I ask this question as I try to make conversation with whichever young person happens to end up in my passenger seat. Reading is important, if not essential, to growing our minds both literally and figuratively. But you probably already knew that. As summer approaches, engaging in a brief conversation about books, or even texting your favorite middle schooler, may help you learn a lot more than you thought you knew.
Having made an effort this past year to become more aware and mindful of how much time can be spent online for teens, and how it can negatively impact their eyesight, lead to screen addiction, and create a personality most people don’t want to spend time with, now is a good time to set family goals around reading.
As the writer and teacher, John Martin, founder of Boys Read notes, reading “is a skill that has atrophy. The effect is cumulative: the more summers without reading, the wider the gap each year.”
No matter what a student’s interests, reading will fill in the gaps, expand their vocabulary, and perhaps even help with the navigation of these middle years of school, when their emotions are on a perpetual rollercoaster.
What should your middle schooler be reading?
Professor Patrick Sullivan of Manchester Community College in CT, a leading researcher and writer on reading, suggests that: “…choosing what you are interested in is a great way to start. You can read whatever books or articles you want.” For him, the act of reading is more important than the type of reading.
Here are a few ways to help your middle schooler look back over their summer and be proud of their accomplishments in reading:
- Register for the teen book club at local library. (*You might be surprised at how enticing prizes can be at this age level!)
- Engage your middle school student in vacation planning. Any reading is worthwhile, so if they need to research hotels, fun activities, historical sites, and better restaurants that they’d enjoy, try giving them the reigns to help with some planning.
- Make a bucket list with your middle schooler, listing any activities, events, or destinations you’d like to do this summer closer to home. Then look in your library and online for books that may overlap with those ideas.
- Invite your student to cook more with you this summer. Hand them some recipe books or suggestions and let them find some things they’d like to learn to cook. Reading recipes counts as reading and might be a good starting point with a reluctant reader.
- Pick up a variety of books to have on hand as soon as school is wrapping up: at a local book sale, yard sales, on-line, and of course, always your library. (*Most libraries have easy online reading sources like Live-Library that can keep a copy stack of books digitally, as well for Kindles and smartphones).
- Keep short articles, magazines, and small paperbacks in your car or downloaded on your phone or handheld device for those in between moments in the car.
- Spend time researching titles with your child and on your own, looking at websites like Good Reads, the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of our favorites at College Coach: Common Sense Media.
- Challenge your middle school student to a reading duel or get your whole family involved: set a goal individually and as partners with your middle schooler to either read the same book(s) or create separate book lists with both fiction and non-fiction titles.
- Step back to their younger years and create the tried and true BINGO chart. Draw a blank board with 10-12 squares (or look on Pinterest for ideas) that you fill in with your middle schooler with different genres that pertain to your child’s interests e.g.: mystery novel, sports article from newspaper, book about a place you’ve visited, memoir, your mom’s favorite book from her middle school years, etc. Offering incentives for a completed chart may not be a bad idea at this age!
- Download audio books from Audible.com or your local library (for free!) for road trips or just for even short rides to and from daily summer activities. While not technically reading, listening to books can open the world of literature up to more reluctant readers.
- Most importantly, let your middle schooler see YOU reading. Helping your student establish a love of reading might reignite or inspire you to read more.
Campouts, sleepovers, car rides, lazy days on the beach, by a lake or a pool, warm nights with a background of crickets and peeper frogs—wherever your middle schooler is this summer, make sure they’ve packed something to read! And whoever ends up in your passenger seat, don’t hesitate to ask, “What are you reading this summer?” You just might get more than a teenage grunt or groan…