Ten Terrific Tips to Encourage Summer Reading

summer reading children at beach with books, hats, and sunglasses

As school librarians, we know how important summer reading is for our students. We’re familiar with the “summer slide,” the loss of academic skills that happens when students do not read when they are away from school for the summer. The summer slide has a disproportionate impact on students from lower income households. If we, as school librarians, don’t take action to encourage summer reading, we don’t know that anyone else will stand in that gap. It’s up to us, my friends!

How can we make it happen? Here are my top 10 time-tested tips to encourage summer reading.

Collaborate with your Local Public Library

When your school library closes for the summer, where will your students get books to read? For many students, the public library is the best option. Stop by your nearest public library and find out about the summer reading program and any special events that your students might like to participate in. Add links to these on your school library website, your school’s social media, your family communication apps, and send paper copies home with your summer reading challenge.

Teach Summer Reading as a Library Lesson

I wrote this blog post about how I explicitly teach a summer reading library lesson near the end of the school year. Here’s what I include in that lesson:

  • I start with this Dav Pilkey video which explains in a kid-friendly way how important it is for students to read during the summer
  • I show this video, reminding students that they will get bored this summer, and reading is the best way to beat boredom.
  • I project a picture of our local public library on the screen so that students recognize the building.
  • I remind them that the library on the screen is open, even when school is closed. I ask students to raise their hand and tell me something they know about this library. “It has a playground!” “It’s across the street from Jack-in-the-Box!” Our shared knowledge helps paint a picture for students who’ve never visited there.
  • I hand out their summer reading challenge, and I explain how it works, how to fill it out, and what their reward will be when they complete it and bring it back to me in the fall (not tomorrow).

If you repeat your summer reading library lesson every year, your students will eventually get the point, even if their families and classroom teachers aren’t sending the same message. This is the perfect library lesson to teach at the end of the school year, when students aren’t checking out books anymore. They can look up books in your online catalog and write down titles that they want to find in your local public library.

Check out Library Books for the Summer

Many school libraries allow students who will be returning to the school in the fall (not graduating fifth graders) to check out 10 library books for the summer. This is especially helpful in communities that don’t have access to a local public library. Yes, there is a risk that some books might get lost, but you can create a form for parent signature so that the parents are aware that they need to keep up with those 10 library books during the summer. Is it better for those books to sit on the shelf all summer, gathering dust?

happy child with stack of books for summer reading

If you do create a parent permission form, I recommend providing a copy of the permission slip to parents and sending that copied permission slip home, along with:

Summer Reading Nights

Some schools receive funding or grants to hold literacy events during the summer. Teachers and librarians can be paid to work at those events to stay connected with students and provide them with books and summer learning resources. You can read picture books aloud to students and help them fill out their summer reading logs for that book that you read to them. You can provide them with additional copies of their summer reading challenge or bingo, if they’ve lost theirs. You can remind families about the resources available on your library website.

Yes, it does interrupt your summer, but think about how happy those students will be to see you and to tell you about the books they’ve been reading!

Incorporate Technology

We know that many of our students will be spending time on laptops or tablets this summer, so we can leverage that to promote summer reading resources like these:

Additionally, you can use your school’s social media to remind families about summer reading, about public library events, and about reading incentives available from local businesses. We all get busy and need reminders. You can schedule posts ahead of time using a social media scheduler and know that your families will be kept informed during the busy summer months.

Make the Rewards Visible

When students return to school in August or September, create a bulletin board from all of the Summer Reading Bingo boards or Summer Reading Logs that were returned to you. Celebrate those who turned in their summer reading challenge with an event, like a popsicle party with extra recess. You want the whole school to see that reading is joyful and fun.

Connect with Local Businesses

Many national and local businesses offer prizes for summer reading. You can link to these on your library website and your school’s social media, to make it easy for families to participate and earn rewards.

Here are a few summer reading programs that are active at the time I’m writing this post:

Practice with Reading Challenges throughout the Year

You don’t have to have a reading challenge for every single holiday, but I always like to use this FREE Winter Break Marshmallow Reading Challenge over our 2-week winter break. Students completed marshmallow reading challenges such as, “Read in your pajamas” and “Read under the table.” In January, I displayed the completed challenge pages on a library bulletin board, and I rewarded students who completed the challenge with a packet of hot cocoa with marshmallows and a Hot Chocolate Scratch N Sniff Bookmark.

Pair Up with Summer Lunch Programs

Does your school provide free meals to students during the summer? Talk to your principal, your family specialist, and your reading specialist about how you might collaborate to promote reading at a time when students are showing up to campus. Even if you are not available to check out books through your library circulation system, could you make a table of free books available to families, through a grant, donations, or other school funds?

Don’t Get Discouraged

In your first year launching a summer reading program, participation by 10% of your students is an excellent response. Aim to increase participation every year by establishing a school tradition of summer reading that is handed down from older siblings to younger ones. Families will start to look forward to the fun of summer reading, once this expectation is established. But it won’t happen overnight, so don’t let yourself get down about low participation rates in the beginning!

Additional Resources

I’ve created these resources on TPT to make it easier for you to promote summer reading in your school community:

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