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Help Students Plan for Summer Reading

By Angela Baez

“In the summer, the days stretched out like a blanket of warmth and possibility.” 

–Yuyi Morales, Dreamers

Much has been written about the importance of summer reading (and the risk of  “the summer slide”). If you think of summer as Yuyi Morales does, you see “the days stretched out like a blanket of warmth and possibility,” and the chance for the school year’s learning not to slip away, but to deepen and expand. Summer reading can solidify skills, grow knowledge, and unlock passions. Reading is portable too–perfect for summer adventures near and far! 

Here are some ways to help students maintain their reading lives across the summer and beyond.

Think Access First

School is the central source of books for many students. If we are serious about supporting kids with their summer reading, we must ensure that they have access to reading material. Donalyn Miller’s 2018 words still ring true today: it’s not complicated. Summer reading planning step one is asking, How can I guarantee kids will have books to read?

Many teachers invite students to select books from the classroom library and then that baggie full of those books travels to their next classroom–a familiar welcome come fall. Consider also sending a book (or more!) from that stash home with kids. Returning the books at summer’s end can be as low maintenance or as involved as you have the bandwidth for. Whether it is “Just drop it in the basket in the doorway!” or “Recommend it to another reader!,” generous book access makes a difference. And if some of the books aren’t returned? It’s a reality that many schools believe is worth risking to be certain kids have books for the summer.

Across the past few years, a number of schools have pushed for their libraries to remain open during the summer. While local public libraries are an amazing resource, keep in mind that they may require transportation for some families that neighborhood schools do not. That said, encouraging a connection to the public library is always a good idea. Most public libraries offer summer reading plans and materials of their own, and welcome a partnership with schools in their communities. Every library system has different requirements for obtaining a library card. Get to know your local library’s requirements, and work to reduce potential barriers so that all students can have their own card. If your local library requires a permanent address to get a library card, check to see whether students without one can use their school ID. 

Of course, channeling students to make use of digital platforms for reading has the potential for vast book access. Most public library systems utilize Libby, a free app with instant access to the library’s collection of ebooks, audiobooks, and digital magazines. Additionally, digital reading platforms like epic! allow teachers to curate summer collections for students, making it more likely that kids, especially beginning readers, will have books that they can read. 

Consider Engagement

Speaking of curated collections, when a loved one says, “I thought you might like this,” who doesn’t listen a bit more closely? Book recommendations can go a long way for a reader (and their caregivers) facing a library full of options. You might take stock of the favorite books in your classroom and list some “next reads”– books that are similar in terms of accessibility, topic, etc. It’s a bonus if you can suggest books in a series, so kids naturally have several more titles at the ready!

For more personalized recommendations, you might ask students to reflect on and jot the books they’ve loved this school year. As you meet for your final reading conferences of the year, you might share a few new titles you imagine that the student will love. These suggestions can be a literary gift to your students. 

You might decide to support book selection in a more general way. Many teachers like to offer “book challenges” to nudge readers to keep reading across the summer months.

And remember, choice is one of the most powerful ingredients to growing lifelong readers and thinkers. Avid readers often say that self-selection is one of their most cherished parts of summer reading, so the best nudge might just be “Choose a book you are excited to read.”  

Foster Opportunities for Connection

We can sometimes feel obligated to include additional assignments that serve as “proof of reading.” But in truth, this can stymie students’ drive to read (and burden teachers with checking this work at summer’s end). Instead of building in accountability when helping students plan for summer reading, consider building in community. Ask, How can students connect over their summer reading? 

Reading partnerships in our classrooms allow for accountability that is rooted in interdependence. If it is feasible, you might decide to find ways for reading partners to meet, either virtually or in person, over the summer. Could book clubs meet in the school library? Could there be a Zoom meeting set up for partners to talk about their recent reads? Could kids write postcards, email, or text their thoughts to a friend? Could you release the logistical work to families and encourage them to convene while school’s out? If setting up such meetings feels impossible over the summer, could kids bring a favorite summer read to school in the fall and have time to chat about it with others? Book conversations can bring renewed purpose and dimension to a person’s reading life, in any form they can happen. 

Of course, reading communities can exist within families as well. One medium that can serve families particularly well is audiobooks, whether they are listened to at home or on the go! You can find a wide range on Libby. And to widen students’ reading communities even more, check out Scholastic’s Home Base

Happy summer! Happy reading!

Published on June 26, 2024