How do I know it’s time for Summer Reading Programs? Besides the calendar and the gnashing of parental teeth as they go over their kids’ summer reading list and see nothing but angst trying to get their kids to read the books on said list? My Inbox is filled with press releases on the latest apps to get your kids reading and fight against “Summer Brain Drain.”
My gut response to the horror of Summer Brain Drain is that sometimes a little brain draining is a good thing. I get that it is a decided problem when the first third of your already too short school year is spent bringing kids back to where they were last spring. But at the same time, kids need time to relax and just have fun – just like we grown ups do and too often don’t. This constant focus on productivity and nose to the grindstone work ethic is not only hard on our bodies and our mental health, it turns out, it puts the major hurt on our productivity.
I personally hate summer reading lists. It is true that, as a kid, I was introduced to a couple great books that way. But by and large the required books on whatever list turned out to be the biggest bores on the planet. And this was supposed to turn me on to reading? Fortunately, I loved to read, but I can only imagine how hard it was for kids who hated and/or struggled with reading. Then when my own daughter came along, it was the same story – she loved to read but was so bored and put off by the books on the summer reading list that it was a constant struggle to get her to read them.
The problem is, summer is the perfect time for reading – when else are you going to have time to slog through the entire Harry Potter series in one sitting? Too hot and humid to go out and play? Time to dive head-first into The Babysitters Club or… I forget what the hot series for pre-teens is nowadays.
Plus there’s that whole brain drain thing. Reading may not help your kid retain the fundamentals of long division and fractions, but it will keep his brain sharp enough that he’ll pick them up again quickly when he gets back to school.
Plus there is one other thing that reading can do that video and apps can’t – it stimulates the imagination. With reading, you have to imagine that toad-like grin on Professor Dolores Umbridge’s face and her tiny little cough. Imelda Staunton was great in the two movies, but it wasn’t the same as seeing and hearing it in your own brain.
I’m not knocking apps and film and video – they are marvelous forms of media in their own right. But they are not perfect and they simply cannot provide the depth that reading can and they cannot stimulate the imagination the way reading does.
Or just laying around. Or playing energetically outside. Or just having hours and hours of free time to fill and no direction on how to fill it, except that you only have two hours of screen time which must be shared with a sibling or two.
Thinking creatively will probably be one of the most sought-after skills in the coming years, and thanks to an over-reliance on TV, our kids are not getting any exercise in that direction.
Summer reading lists aren’t the only way to get your kids reading. Finding books about things they’re interested in is a great way to start. If your kid loves video games, find stories related or similar to the games they’re playing. There are books about their favorite TV stars. Or their favorite sports stars.
Read to them and let them read to you. Let them see you reading for the fun of it. But most importantly, find them books and stories and even non-fiction about the stuff they like already. A kid who loves playing and watching sports is not going to want to read about dragons and wizards. But maybe she’ll get into a book on how to improve her soccer game or a biography of Mia Hamm.
And turn off the TV. Yes, there are times to leave it on, such as the fifth rainy day in a row and the pile from the library has been gone through twice. Or an all-night movie marathon that you’re all sharing together. But it mostly needs to stay off and there isn’t that much on this time of year, anyway.
Turn off the video games and the apps. Even if they’re educational apps, what your kids need at least as much, if not more, is unstructured time to let their brains drain a little and instead fill up with the impossible, the silly, the sheer joy of not having to learn. Oddly enough, that’s often when they learn the most.