How Reading Impacts Your Kid's Brain

Beyond boosting their learning potential, parent-child reading also has health benefits, says a recent study. Reading changes their brains for the better.

Reading with your child is a fun, bonding experience that offers many benefits – the most obvious being the development of child’s language skills and providing an opportunity for them to learn how to read. Beyond boosting their learning potential, parent-child reading also has health benefits, says a recent study. Reading changes their brains for the better.
The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, offer hard evidence that reading feeds young brain development. Led by Dr. John S. Hutton at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the study used functional MRI scans to assess real-time changes in the brains of 19 pre-school children as they listened to stories being read to them.
Parents were asked about “cognitive stimulation,” including their children’s reading habits and how often they were read to at home. Researchers discovered that reading stimulates the side of the brain that helps with mental imagery, understanding, and language processing, and that brain activity, while hearing stories, was higher in the children who were read to at home more often.
“We hope that this work will guide further research on shared reading and the developing brain to help improve interventions and identify children at risk for difficulties as early as possible, increasing the chances that they will be successful in the wonderful world of books,” Dr. Hutton said in an interview.
Studies have also shown that when a mind is consistently stimulated, the progress of mental illness slows. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, about 20 percent of children in the U.S., including pre-school children, suffer from a diagnosable mental illness during a given year. Children are prone to anxiety, ADHD, and other disorders. Reading keeps their brains active and engaged, and can help fend off mental illness.
Further research, conducted by cognitive neuropsychologist David Lewis and colleagues from the University of Sussex in England, showed that reading is also a major form of stress relief. The study followed volunteers as they had their stress levels and heart rates increased, and were then tasked with trying a series of stress-reduction methods – with reading surpassing listening to music and going for a walk as being the most effective method. Reading was shown to reduce stress levels by 68 percent, according to the findings.
Since all children experience stress, sometimes significant amounts of it, reading seems like a natural method for easing their tension and anxiety. Again, preschoolers are not immune. Even very young children have worries and concerns. Separation anxiety, for example, is a major stressor among this age group.
Instilling a love of reading in your child can also increase their life expectancy. Research has shown that avid readers live an average of two years longer than those who do not read. Those who read for up to 3.5 hours a week had a 17 percent lower risk of dying over the next 12 years, and people who read more than that were 23 percent less likely.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to read to their children every day, starting at birth. Dr. Hutton’s study notes, “Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers. The quality of cognitive stimulation in the home, especially before school entry, strongly influences achievement and health outcomes.”
The first six years of life are the most important for healthy brain development, but a brain needs stimulation and new experiences to grow cells and make connections. You can have a positive influence on your child’s mental growth. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. Help them flex their brains with a great story – every single day.
What other ways does reading positively impact your child’s health? Share in the comments!

The 5 Joys of Bookworms Who Raise Bookworms

When you’ve grown up with your nose in a book, it’s incredibly thrilling to have a kid who’s inherited your passion for reading.

My daughter was a baby when I first read a book to her. She was probably unable to even focus her eyes on the pictures, but she seemed to enjoy it anyway. She may not have understood my words, but I’m sure she felt that something special was being communicated by the rhythm of my voice and the attention I was giving to this small square object. It was quality time.

So began our journey together as book lovers. Apart from one small blip on her third birthday, when she opened her books first and screamed, “All books! Where are my toys?!” (sacrilege), she has always loved to read and to be read to.

I also grew up with my head frequently stuck in a book. Parenting has taught me that book lovers who raise bookworms get to enjoy some extra special experiences.

Seeing your children love the books you loved

I couldn’t wait to share some books with my daughter. At times, I’ve caught myself wishing she was older just so I could introduce her to new fictional characters I know she’d adore.

I know parents who’ve rhapsodized about their children discovering the delights of certain Enid Blyton books, and I’ve never known a child who doesn’t love “The Faraway Tree” stories – Moonface, Silky the Fairy, pop cakes, toffee shocks, google buns… they’re such incredible, sensation filled adventure stories. It’s great to see little ones experience the excitement of them for the first time.

I was over eager to introduce my daughter to the Harry Potter books. She read the first one too early and was bored. But a year or two later she tried again, and now she’s read and loves the whole series.

I know it’ll be at least another couple of years before I can hand her copies of my old Phillip Pullmans, (Must. Have. Patience), but it’s great to know that she has so many awe inspiring stories ahead of her that she will love.

Rereading classics you haven’t read since you were a child

This may seem very similar to the last point, but enjoying seeing your child read is quite a different experience from actually rereading childhood favorites again yourself.

Reading Enid Blyton’s Amelia Jane stories to my daughter brought back buried memories of hearing it read aloud by my teacher in school. I’d completely forgotten how much I’d loved the one where she caused havoc with plasticine!

Revisiting books from childhood can bring back all sorts of memories and feelings you’d forgotten about. There’s a unique ‘scrumptious food and passwords in a shed’ feeling to Blyton’s Secret Seven books that nothing else quite evokes.

More recently, I’ve reread Penny Farmer’s “Charlotte Sometimes” and Catherine Storr’s “Marianne Dreams” – both books that made a big impression on me as a child and that I enjoyed rediscovering as an adult. A great story is just that, never mind it’s target audience.

Of course, some books do become dated and may have old fashioned ideas in them. But that’s a great opportunity for a chat with your child about the way society progresses.

Discovering great new books

Loads of great children’s literature has appeared since I was a child. My daughter’s enthusiasm has inspired me to check out some of her favorites (okay, I’ll admit I’ve occasionally read them before she’s managed to get her hands on them!), “The Sleeper and the Spindle”, “Varjak Paw”, and “Girl of Ink and Stars”, to name a few. I’m also about to start the highly recommended Tamora Pierce series “The Song of the Lioness”.

Knowing that you’re helping your child’s education

One thing my daughter has never struggled with at school is spelling. It was the same for me, and while it may not always follow that a keen reader is great speller, it certainly helps. Children absorb things like sentence structure and spelling through reading.

Children may not realize it, but they’re learning about the world when they read. I began to talk to my daughter about suffragettes recently and discovered that she already knew quite a lot on the subject thanks to a book called “Opal Plumstead” by one of her favorite authors, Jacqueline Wilson.

It’s great to watch your child’s reading tastes develop, too. I was amused when my daughter told me recently that one author “tried too hard to be funny.” It may be that the material was a bit young for her, but I took it as a sign of increasing discernment.

Bonding through books

In addition to teaching about the world and language, reading helps us understand other people and emotions. Books can be a great way to talk about issues you think your child might might benefit from understanding, whether it’s how to deal with bullying or just sharing interesting facts. A shared love of books can deepen your relationship with your child.

Some of my happiest times have been spent curled up with a good book – something I especially enjoy at the end of a busy day. Now that I have a reading comrade, that pleasure has been increased by ‘double snuggle time’: bad weather, comfy sofa, duvet, good book, bar of chocolate to share, snuggled up reading together. Nothing better.

Of course, it’s not always wonderful being parent to a bookworm. There are times when they completely ignore you or snap at you because they’re so engrossed. They may take 10 hours getting ready for school in the morning because they’re trying to dress with a book in one hand, or wander around on holiday ignoring their surroundings because they’re too busy reading. But the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

I do wonder if my daughter and I will continue to share a love of the same authors and genres, or if our tastes will diverge as she grows up. Whatever the case, I look forward to finding out.

10 Fun and Creative Ways to Teach Kids to Appreciate Reading

An appreciation for reading is something that has to be cultivated and nurtured. These suggestions can help make it an educational and fun habit.

Reading is so much more than words in a book. Consider this shocking statistic: 93 million adults in the U.S. read at or below the basic level needed to contribute successfully to society. Literacy is a vital life skill; linked to better educational and employment opportunities, and greater emotional development.

But an appreciation for reading doesn’t just happen. It needs to be nurtured and encouraged until a child develops an intrinsic desire to read and the self-confidence to pick up a book on their own.

If you’re struggling to plant that seed, here are 10 fun and creative ways to teach kids to appreciate reading:

Go on destination read-a-thons

Think destination weddings, but for reading and much closer to home. Parks, grassy knolls, gardens, a quiet café corner, the local library… these all make ideal spots to sneak away for a few hours and read with your child. Bring along a favorite chapter book or a handful of quick reads and make it a destination read-a-thon. Your child will love the spontaneity and, in most cases, react positively to the newness of their surroundings.

Make-your-own books

If your child is hesitant to pick up a book on their own, fuel their creativity with make-your-own books. You don’t have to get fancy. Fold a handful of paper in half and secure the edges with staples or glue. Use colorful construction paper to make a cover. Help them as they bring their story to life with crayons, markers, and embellishments. When they’re done, sit with them as they read their story to you.

Create storybook quilts

Reading material comes in different shapes and sizes and doesn’t necessarily have to be paper (or screen). One unique idea comes directly from the Cranberry Quilt Guild of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Members make quilts that correspond with children’s stories. The guild lends the handcrafted books to libraries, schools, and community centers. If you’re crafty, you can make your own storybook quilt to share with your child. Here’s a hybrid book version and a storybook quilt pattern to inspire you.

Dress up for story time

Imagine your child’s delight if you walked into their bedroom carrying “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”… dressed as the young wizard. Or Professor Dumbledore. Bring books to life by dressing the part. Your child will look forward to the next time a literary character surprises them with a book to read.

Start a parent/child book club

If you have time and are willing to host, start a parent/child book club with other families in your neighborhood or child’s school. Turn club meetings into parties with reading-related games, food, and competitions. Or make them themed events – lunch at an apple orchard like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” for example. The more memorable meetings are, the more excited your child and others will be to do it again. Hand out reading journals and honor the most active reader at your next meeting.

Launch your own “Little Free Library”

Has the Little Free Library program found its way to your neighborhood or school? If not, consider building one with your child. Have them help you keep the library stocked with new children’s titles and encourage others take a book, leave a book, and sign the guest book. Worldwide there are now more than 50,000 Little Free Libraries.

Write a letter to a favorite author

Does your child have a favorite author? Help them write a letter to their writing hero. Opt for pen and paper over a typed email to help them develop their writing skills. Find special stationery that ties in with one of the author’s books to make it extra special.

Keep a writing record

Another successful approach to motivating your child is to use some sort of visible record of reading achievement. Consider a calendar where they list the names of the books they’ve read on a certain day. Or have them record what they’ve read on a chart or graph. They can learn math while developing an appreciation for reading. For significant milestones, reward them by visiting your local bookstore to purchase a new book.

Install a bookshelf with real books

At a time when technology trumps tradition, things that were once common have been replaced by things that are convenient. Paper novels have been substituted with ebooks and physical bookshelves have been traded for Kindle libraries. It’s time to get back to basics.

Nothing inspires a young reader more than having their own assortment of books. Not just on an eReader, but real print books they can hold, feel, and even smell. While eBooks are terrific for on the go and very much a modern-day convenience, children deserve the tactile, sensory experience that real books provide. Learning to respect books, while being able to peruse what’s on the shelves and physically choose what they’d like to read, helps children develop an appreciation and lifelong love of reading.

READ!

This might not be a novel idea, but it’s important. Be a reading role model. Always let your child see you read. Children like to follow in their parent’s footsteps, at least while their young. Take advantage of this impressionable time.

What tips do you have for teaching kids to appreciate reading? Share in the comments!

10 Simple Ways to Raise Kids Who Love to Read

Use these ideas to nurture your family’s love affair with books, and you’ll increase the odds of hooking your kids on a lifetime reading habit.

Since my childhood days of reading Richie Rich comic books and Nancy Drew mysteries, I’ve always been a voracious reader. As the family bookworm, I earned the nickname “Booka” from my dad, who was a big reader himself. And my mom played her part in fostering my obsession with the printed word by spending endless hours reading my favorite books to me as a child.

Now that I have my own family, I wanted to make sure I passed on my first true love to my two boys. From the time they were babies, I infused their lives with reading, library story times, and word games, buying and borrowing literally thousands of books during our 10 years of homeschooling together.

Sadly, plenty of research points to a downward trend in recreational reading, particularly among teens and young adults, such as the report by the National Endowment for the Arts. Most alarming, cites the report, is that “both reading ability and the habit of regular reading have greatly declined among college graduates.”

One way to stem the tide of this disturbing trend is to instill the love of reading in your kids from a very young age. But don’t rely on schools to do this. In fact, the same schools that teach your kids to read often destroy their love of reading, as noted in a recent article by clinical psychologist Erica Reischer in The Atlantic about the negative effects of forced reading logs.

“When motivation to do an activity comes from outside, via rewards or mandates, it tends to undermine people’s interest in doing that activity for its own sake,” writes Reischer. “This decline in motivation ultimately affects enjoyment, creativity, and even performance.”

Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to foster the love of reading in your own home. Let these ideas jumpstart your own family’s love affair with books.

Be a reader role model

Make sure your kids see you reading frequently, whether it’s the newspaper in the morning, a magazine while dinner is cooking, or your favorite novel before bed. Bring books with you everywhere you go – from a small paperback you stuff in your purse to a few magazines you stash in the car to a Kindle loaded with books for your next family vacation. Make books a habit in your own life first.

Read to your kids every day

It’s like a daily vitamin for their brain. If you need some ideas for good, age-appropriate books, check out these notable book lists from the Association for Library Service to Children, Common Sense Media, Time Magazine, Goodreads, and New York Public Library.

Make friends with your local public library and visit regularly

Besides allowing you to borrow books for free, many libraries offer lots of child-centered programs, including story times, puppet shows, magic shows, arts-and-crafts workshops, chess clubs, summer reading programs, book clubs, teen councils, and more. Help your kids view the library as the place to go for fun.

Fill your home with books

Literally, put reading material in baskets and on shelves all over the house – in the living room, the family room, the bathroom, etc.

Keep reading together once your kids can read by themselves

Sure, you want to applaud this milestone and encourage solo reading. But the many benefits of being read to continue to accrue, even as kids get old enough to read on their own. Plus, reading together creates a treasured bonding time for you and your kids.

Create a comfy reading nook

Perhaps you’ve got a cozy window seat with great natural light streaming through. Or maybe you’ve got a beanbag chair you can place next to a basket of books. Even just one comfortable chair will work. Add soft pillows, a blanket to snuggle with, and good lighting for the perfect reading get away.

Get kids hooked on a series

Think “Magic Tree House,” “Judy Moody,” and “Encyclopedia Brown” for younger readers; “Big Nate,” “The 39 Clues,” and “Harry Potter” for middle schoolers; and “Hunger Games,” “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” and “Twilight” for older teens.

Don’t rule out comic books and graphic novels

With the visual appeal of high-resolution graphics, sometimes it’s hard to turn kids on to a page full of words. Good comic books and graphic novels can be the gateway to good literature if kids equate reading with fun. I can trace some of my favorite childhood memories to reading comic books (Archie and the gang at Riverdale High, “Little Dot,” “Wendy the Good Little Witch,” “Little Lotta,” “Casper the Friendly Ghost”) and comic strip collections (“Calvin and Hobbes,” “Peanuts,” “Family Circle”). These days, you can even find manga Shakespeare and manga classics, like “Les Miserables” and “The Scarlet Letter.”

Borrow, rent, or buy audiobooks

Listening to a great audiobook without worrying about vocabulary or correct pronunciation offers a convenient and effortless way to get lost in a story. (My boys’ favorites were many classic titles like “King Arthur,” “Arabian Knights,” and “Rip Van Winkle” read by award-winning storyteller Jim Weiss.)

Many public libraries offer free CDs to borrow, as well as downloadable mp3s or streaming audio. Although you can purchase many audiobooks on iTunes and join paid subscription services like Audible, you can also take advantage of free audio books (with some children’s titles but mostly classics for older kids and adults) on websites such as Open Culture, Thought Audio, Lit2Go, and Podiobooks.

Cap off a favorite book with special treats and activities 

Some treat ideas: blueberry pie (“Blueberries for Sal”), orange slices (“Very Hungry Caterpillar”), homemade butter beer (“Harry Potter”), and peach cobbler (“James and the Giant Peach”).

Some activity ideas: clue-finding mission (“Nancy Drew”), visit to a farm (“Charlotte’s Web”), DIY magic show (“Half Magic”), and salt-dough maps (“Scrambled States of America”).

Use these ideas to nurture your family’s love affair with books, and you’ll increase the odds of hooking your kids on a lifetime reading habit.

10 Novels That Explore What It’s Really Like to Grow Up

From the struggles of self-identity, domestic violence, and suicide and loss, these 10 new YA novels poignantly tackle the tough issues.

It’s been a long time since I was a teen, but I remember the challenges of dealing with that first broken heart, watching my body morph from a child into a woman, and entering the threshold of adulthood — without a plan or any direction. The teenage years are full of change, pressure, and uncertainty. Even in stable, solid families, teens grapple with a wide range of issues as they grow and develop.

The statistics are shocking:
  • About 20 percent of teens will experience depression before reaching adulthood (DoSomething.org).
  • Roughly 75 percent of girls with low self esteem reported engaging in negative activities like cutting, bullying, smoking, drinking, or disordered eating (DoSomething.org).
  • Almost 40 percent of homeless people in the U.S. are under 18 (Covenant House).
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens. A recent survey of high school students found that almost 1 in 5 had seriously considered suicide; more than 1 in 6 had made plans to attempt suicide; and more than 1 in 12 had made a suicide attempt in the past year (Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide).
  • LGBT youth are at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, suicide attempts, and suicide (Centers for Disease Control).
  • According to statistics, about 30 percent of teenagers in the U.S. have been involved in bullying, either as a bully or as a victim of teenage bullying (Family First Aid).
  • Living with domestic violence significantly alters a teen’s DNA, aging them prematurely 7-10 years (Childhood Domestic Violence Association).
  • During the past month, 26.4 percent of underage persons (ages 12-20) used alcohol, and binge drinking among the same age group was 17.4 percent (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).
  • By the twelfth grade, about half of adolescents have abused an illicit drug at least once (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services).
  • When a parent talks to their teenager regularly about the dangers of drugs and alcohol they lessen the chance of their child using drugs by 42 percent! However, only 25 percent of teens report actually having these conversations (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

It’s critical that we have the difficult discussions with our teens and arm them with resources that can help. Books are one way to empower them.

From the struggles of self-identity, the trauma of domestic violence, to the unthinkable heartbreak of suicide and loss, these 10 new YA novels tackle the tough issues — poignantly and with unforgettable prose.

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Books for teens Life Before by Michele BaconLife Before 

by Michele Bacon

Life Before is a modern coming-of-age story that finds 17-year-old Alexander (Xander) Fife excited to finish high school and start college so that his future can finally “begin.” Unfortunately for Xander, his violent, abusive father has other plans. Xander ends up on the run and on his own for the first time in his life. Author Michelle Bacon does an incredible job painting the canvas of emotional chaos experienced by children who grow up in violent and abusive homes. Teens will connect with Xander’s raw, emotional journey, and the honest voice in which his story is told.

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Books for teens This Ordinary Life by Jennifer WalkupThis Ordinary Life

by Jennifer Walkup

Jasmine Torres has so much going on in her life, it’s a miracle she hasn’t suffered a nervous breakdown or run away from home. She is the glue that keeps her dysfunctional family together, dealing with her younger brother’s epilepsy, her mother’s alcoholism, and her broken heart — all while aspiring to become a radio star. But how do you fulfill your dreams with so many other responsibilities? When so many others depend on you? Hope. This Ordinary Life is a wonderful story about the love between siblings and never losing sight of your dreams, no matter what obstacles lie in your way. This beautifully written book is far from ordinary.

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Books for teens Draw the Line by Laurent LinnDraw the Line 

by Laurent Linn

Sometimes the superhero isn’t the big guy, the outgoing guy, the guy who has all the girls. Sometimes the superhero is waiting in the background; waiting to ‘come out’ and turn the world upside down. When a violent hate crime occurs at a local hangout, 16-year-old Adrian must stand up and come out, or he will forever be stuck in the background. A magnificent story about self-identity, courage, and finding your way. This groundbreaking book defies genres and takes a serious look at some timely, hard-hitting issues.

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Books for teens Pearl by Deirdre Riordan HallPearl 

by Deirdre Riordan Hall

Pearl Jaeger has survived being the daughter of a drug-addicted, has-been celebrity mother. She has survived living with her mother’s abusive boyfriend. She has survived fleeing that turbulent environment and bouncing from homeless shelter to homeless shelter. Now the real test begins. Can she survive boarding school — her one chance at a new beginning — or will her mother’s struggles emerge and become her own? A book intended for mature teens looking for realistic fiction addressing the struggles of addiction, love, and self-identity.

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Books for teens Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky AlbertalliSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda 

by Becky Albertalli

Heart wrenching, yet appropriately infused with humor, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is another remarkable piece of realistic fiction — a geeky coming-of-age story about the not-so-openly gay Simon Spier whose secret is about to come to light in the form of a wayward email. Albertalli creates a masterful world filled with relatable characters, in a happy bounce of a book.

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Books for teens My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine WargaMy Heart and Other Black Holes 

by Jasmine Warga

Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is severely depressed and fixated on suicide. But she is too scared to do it alone. After discovering a website specializing in “suicide partners,” she meets Roman and they form a pact. The two couldn’t be more polar opposite and as the end nears, Aysel finds herself questioning if she really wants to die. Can she convince Roman that life is better than death? Before it’s too late? Novelist Jasmine Warga addresses teen suicide and mental illness with grace and honesty.

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Books for teens The Loose Ends List by Carrie FirestoneThe Loose Ends List 

by Carrie Firestone

Seventeen-year-old Maddie O’Neill Levine lives a comfortable life. She and her friends are excited to spend their pre-college summer on the lake with her social butterfly grandmother (Maddie’s closest ally). Her happy world turns dark when she learns that Gram is terminally ill. The summer won’t be spent with friends; it will be spent with family on a secret “death with dignity” cruise ship. The Loose Ends List is a story of endings and beginnings, of laughter and tears, of first love and of falling in love with your family all over again. Author Carrie Firestone tackles the hard discussions — death, dying, and grief — in a fresh, clever, and thoughtful way. It’s a book that once picked up, you can’t put down.

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Books for teens What We Saw by Aaron HartzlerWhat We Saw 

by Aaron Hartzler

What We Saw is a thought-provoking, sensitive, and spellbinding story about the courage it takes to do what’s right. Inspired by true events in the Steubenville rape case and told from the first-person account of a girl called Kate, this powerful narrative takes on themes of sexism, rape culture, feminism, and consent. It’s a novel that has the power to change the way people think, and a must-read for all young adults.

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Books for teens What Happens Now by Jennifer CastleWhat Happens Now 

by Jennifer Castle

Seventeen-year-old Ari is recovering from the emotional and physical scars of cutting when she meets Camden and instantly falls in love. But Camden isn’t the glamorous boy she has imagined. He’s damaged and could easily pull Ari down. What Happens Now is a riveting tale of first love, possibilities, and overcoming the demons within. Castle handles the sensitive topics of depression and self-harm with great compassion. She not only describes what Ari is going through in words, she makes you feel her journey and the healing power of love.

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Books for teens What Happens Now by Jennifer CastleThe Way I Used to Be 

by Amber Smith

The Way I Used to Be details the aftermath of a sexual assault from the first-person perspective of Eden. This is a powerful book about the long-term effects of rape on a girl’s life. Teens who have experienced the pain of sexual assault or abuse will appreciate this honest, raw reflection of courage and hope.

8 Books You’ll Actually Enjoy Reading to Your Baby

Reading to kids from an early age is important. But not every book is a winner. Here are eight books that won’t make you dread storytime.

At my baby shower, I received half a dozen books – three copies of [su_highlight background=”#E4F3F2″]“Brown Bear, Brown Bear,”[/su_highlight] two copies of [su_highlight background=”#E4F3F2″]“The Very Hungry Caterpillar,”[/su_highlight] and [su_highlight background=”#E4F3F2″]“Goodnight Moon,”[/su_highlight] a childhood classic. Obviously, we had some work to do.

Research has shown that there are numerous benefits to reading to your child from an early age, so there was no question that books were going to be a part of our daily routine. I grew up as a voracious reader and a lover of books. My husband’s father wrote more than 100 books. We have shelves filled with all kinds of books – fiction, non-fiction, reference, cookbooks, and many more in storage – but our children’s book selection was lacking.

When I first started wandering through the children’s section at the bookstore, I noticed a common denominator in the board books. A lot of them are really cheesy. As much as I love my kids, books like [su_highlight background=”#E4F3F2″]“Guess How Much I Love You”[/su_highlight] and [su_highlight background=”#E4F3F2″]“Love You Forever”[/su_highlight] didn’t really appeal to me.

I came up with my own criteria for books. For my baby, it had to be available as a board book with pages that were easy to turn and could stand up to little fingers and mouths. Anything that I couldn’t read without rolling my eyes was out. Sorry, [su_highlight background=”#E4F3F2″]“On the Night You Were Born.”[/su_highlight]

Books had to be visually stimulating, either with high contrast imagery, beautiful artwork, or both, and pictures to point out and talk about.There needed to be some words, but not too many words. Books like [su_highlight background=”#E4F3F2″]“Good Night, Gorilla”[/su_highlight] and “Hug are cute, but it can be challenging to fill in the blanks with just one word on each page. Lastly, the text had to be fun to read.

Here are eight books that won’t make you dread storytime.

Good books to read to baby, the house at nightThe House in the Night

by Susan Swanson (author), Beth Krommes (illustrator)

This book hits it on every count. The artwork, black and white scratchboard with gold highlights throughout, are visually stunning with interesting details that are perfect for pointing out to babies. The story is simple, taking a little girl on a soaring journey to the origin of light as she settles down for bed. You won’t mind reading this Caldecott Award winner every night.

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Pleasant Kids Books, A book of sleepA Book of Sleep

by Il Sung Na

Follow the nighttime adventures of the watchful owl as he explores how various animals like to sleep. The artwork is so gorgeous that you may, like I did, look to see if you can get prints for the wall. As you read, see if you can find the owl on every page.

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Pleasant books for kids, Hello bugsHello Bugs!

by Smriti Prasadam-Halls (author), Emily Bolam (illustrator)

This book doesn’t quite fit the criteria, because there’s no story to tell, but it’s fun to read to babies. The black and white pictures with colorful foil accents are sure to catch your little one’s eye. The playful greetings and sound words are perfect to practice waving and share a tickle.

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Pleasant Book for Kids, Jamberry[su_highlight background=”#E4F3F2″]Jamberry[/su_highlight]

by Bruce Degen

My kids are wild about berries and have been since they first started eating solid foods, so this book is a winner with us. With colorful pictures and playful language, you’ll love this celebration of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

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Pleasant Books for kids, mama a llamamIs Your Mama a Llama?

by Deborah Guarino

Lloyd the llama asks his friends about their mamas and learns all about the differences between himself and his animal friends. One of the most fun books to read, you’ll love the delightful rhymes and lovely artwork, even as you wonder where all these animals could possibly be living to all be friends.

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pleasant books for kids, Little Blue truck[su_highlight background=”#E4F3F2″]Little Blue Truck[/su_highlight]

by Alice Schertle (author), Jill McElmurry (illustrator)

Another fun book to learn about animals, you’ll entertain your baby with moos, baas, neighs, and more as the Little Blue Truck shows that kindness matters. Your baby will love all the sounds from the animals and trucks and will eagerly point out the friends who come to help.

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pleasant books for kids, giraffes cant dance[su_highlight background=”#E4F3F2″]Giraffes Can’t Dance[/su_highlight]

by Giles Andreae (author), Guy Parker-Rees (Illustrator)

Poor Gerald wants to dance, but his skinny legs and long neck make it hard to be graceful. With easy-to-read rhymes and beautiful, brightly colored artwork, you’ll love teaching your baby that it’s okay to be different.

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pleasant books for kids, goodnight moon[su_highlight background=”#E4F3F2″]Goodnight Moon[/su_highlight]

by Margaret Wise Brown (author), Clement Hurd (illustrator)

This classic book isn’t my favorite, but it’s worth having in your library. It meets all of my standards. It’s not cheesy. It’s visually stimulating, with lots of things to point out, though you might wonder why there’s a telephone in a child’s bedroom. The text has some odd moments, but ends on a lovely note. Is there any better way to say goodnight than to noises everywhere?

Your Kid’s Not a Bookworm? Here’s What You Need to Know

We all know reading has lifelong benefits. But what can you do when your kid just doesn’t enjoy sticking their nose in a book?

When we’re constantly told how important it is for our children to read, how it helps them improve in other subjects (even math), what do we do if our child simply doesn’t enjoy reading?

I know how enjoyable reading is, what it feels like when you get to that point where you can’t possibly put the book down until you know what happens, even if it means staying awake until the early hours of the morning.

It’s hard for me, therefore, to understand why my middle daughter doesn’t feel that way about books. She’s nine and has always been a good reader, plowing her way through the school reading books with diligence and never giving us any indication of a future issue with her reading.

Children love sharing stories with you.

I’ve always read to the children and they love that. It’s not just about sharing a story, so much as spending time together, in close contact. Picture books were great fun, the stories short enough to share in one sitting, the results instant and gratifying. But there comes a time when you feel you have to move on from that.

Teachers certainly encourage moving on to chapter books when they feel a child is ready. With my daughter being able to read so well, it seemed like the natural next step. However, when presented with chapter books and given the opportunity to read alone, I didn’t get the response I imagined.

She wanted to please me, I could see that. She also wanted to enjoy the stories; that was obvious too, but something didn’t click and the initial enthusiasm for moving on waned. The picture books remained on her book shelf and she would dive in and out of them as she pleased. There was nothing wrong with that and I was only too happy to see her reading, thinking she would move on in her own time.

Finding the right story may take time.

We now have a pile of middle-grade books containing make-shift bookmarks, placed a few pages in. “You just haven’t found the right book yet,” we were told, and so on we went, trying different ones, taking other people’s recommendations. The results were always the same. The magical “one” still eludes us.

Credit to my daughter for trying, but she is one of those children who are eager to please, at school and at home. However, having yet to reach that middle section, the bit where everything changes and you are in it to the end with the protagonist; I know she won’t ever get that bookworm feeling. I think she knows that, too, and I’m only relieved that it doesn’t upset her.

What do you need from a story?

She tells me the stories are too long, still needing the instant gratification that a short story with a beginning, middle, and end, wrapped up in one sitting, gives you. It’s almost like she can’t be bothered with longer stories for that one reason alone.

It’s not that she doesn’t read well, either. In fact, her teachers tell me she has excellent comprehension skills. They’re not too worried, but they do keep encouraging her to read and that prompted us to come up with some ideas to vary her reading skills.

These include:

  • Non-fiction books
  • Newspapers (we buy First News, a children’s newspaper published in the UK)
  • Short story collections (you can dip in and out of these as you please)
  • Audio books (listening to a story improves your vocabulary as well as comprehension skills)
  • Short story magazines (it’s something to look forward to once a month)
  • I read to her (middle-grade novels) and we discuss the story together

As long as they’re reading something, that’s good!

By reading such a variety of materials, my daughter is still experiencing different stories and improving her vocabulary and comprehension skills. In the meantime, she continues to try different books, in the hope she will find that special story; the one that finally shows her what reading longer novels is all about.

7 Unique Books to Excite Kids About Their Local Environment

Kids are born with an innate interest in nature. Here are seven books that can help the adventure continue, even when it is time to go inside.

Children are born with an innate curiosity about nature. Few can resist the siren song of a puddle waiting to be splashed in, or a hill waiting to be rolled down. Playing outdoors offers children an endless opportunity for learning and discovery as they find new bugs crawling under rocks or hear a bird’s song as it flies from tree to tree.

More and more, however, our kids are growing up in a world that is disconnected from nature. Researchers have found that British children were better able to identify Pokémon characters than real life plants and animals. A little extra encouragement from parents, however, can help kids to pursue their natural interest in the world around them.

Here are seven books that can help the adventure continue, even when it is time to go inside.

My Book of Birds, Geraldo ValerioMy Book of Birds

by Geraldo Valerio

A perfect read for any budding bird watcher, this book features cut paper illustrations of common North American birds. The simplified, artistic depictions help illustrate the most important identifying features of local birds, enabling even young children to recognize the differences between species. Valerio provides interesting facts about each bird in his descriptions, helping to encourage a curiosity about creatures we may otherwise never have noticed, like Steller’s Jays, or don’t often get to see, such as the Tufted Puffin.

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Flowers are Calling, Rita Gray (author), Kenard Pak (illustrator)Flowers are Calling

by Rita Gray (author), Kenard Pak (illustrator)

With beautiful illustrations and lyrical text that will capture a young listener’s attention, this book covers the lives of pollinators, their sources of food, and other inhabitants of the forest and desert. Gray easily and simply depicts the relationship between plants and animals with text that reads more like a story than a field guide. Pak’s illustrations of moonflowers, cacti, and hummingbirds will expose young readers to a variety of local plants and animals that they can then keep an eye out for themselves.

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Water is Water- A Book about the Water Cycle, Miranda Paul (author), Jason Chin (illustrator)Water is Water: A Book about the Water Cycle

Miranda Paul (author), Jason Chin (illustrator)

The water cycle is not simply a lesson reserved for fourth grade science class. It’s a story that we live every day, as we watch rain fall from the sky and evaporate from puddles. Paul tells this story through the eyes of children, following them through a year of rain, puddles, snow, ice, fog, and lakes. This poetic and unique approach will help show children that nature is not separate from us, it is something we experience. As a bonus, the family featured in the story is multi-ethnic, something that is not often depicted in children’s literature.

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Waiting for High Tide, Nikki McClureWaiting for High Tide

by Nikki McClure

In this story, a young boy describes the coastal ecosystem, from barnacles to herons, as he spends the day at the beach with his family. His parents build a raft, and he painstakingly waits for the tide to come in so they can spend the rest of the day swimming and jumping off their creation. While children who don’t live in the Pacific Northwest might not be familiar with the plants and animals in this book, they will be able to relate to the difficulty of waiting, and the excitement of exploring.

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Over and Under the Snow, by Kate Messner (author), Christopher Silas Neal (illustrator)Over and Under the Snow

by Kate Messner (author), Christopher Silas Neal (illustrator)

Every child dreams of a secret kingdom that they can only see in their imagination, and this book takes them there, down to the subnivean layer – the world of animals that exists under the snow. As a young girl skis through the forest with her father, the world of red squirrels, shrews, and beavers is exposed. Children and adults will both learn something new by reading this cozy book.

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Learn to Count With Northwest Coast Native ArtLearn to Count With Northwest Coast Native Art

While the animals in this book – frogs, ravens, butterflies – are familiar to most readers, the illustrations might not be. Featuring art by Native artists from the Pacific Northwest, young readers can gain a different perspective on familiar animals. The bright colors and simple text make will help even the littlest readers gain an interest in learning about the great outdoors.

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Who Pooped in the Park? Gary Robson (author), Elijah Brady Clark (illustrator)Who Pooped in the Park?

Gary Robson (author), Elijah Brady Clark (illustrator)

What kid can resist talking about poop? This book takes a unique approach to animal identification, by teaching kids about scat (poop) and tracks (footprints). As a family goes on a vacation to Yellowstone National Park, they are disappointed that they don’t come across any animals, but are excited to find plenty of evidence that they are around. This book is part of a series that features different national parks, so you can learn about faraway lands, or get more familiar with animals close to home.

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A Beauty Collected by y Rachel GarahanA Beauty Collected

by Rachel Garahan

“If you can’t name things, how can you know them?” asks the back of this ABC book that will engage children just learning their ABCs, and older ones who are interested in learning more about the world they inhabit. With stunning photographs, children will learn to recognize a myriad of natural objects, ranging from plants to space matter (such as meteorites). This book features items that kids will come across in their everyday life, such as berries, as well as some more exotic ones like pomegranates. With enticing pictures of vegetables, this book might even encourage your child to try a bite of chard.

What You Need to Know About Common Core Reading Standards

More than just reading words, the common core reading standards focus on reading comprehension. Here are some ways to support your child’s learning.

It feels great when your child reads aloud to you from a thick chapter book, right? You’re so proud of the way that he or she can read even multisyllabic words with relative ease.

First Dr. Seuss, then Patricia Pollaco. Before you know it, you’re laughing together at a Judy Blume book that you remember fondly from your own childhood. What a reader! Look at how she’s plowing through those pages!

I understand your excitement. Having been a teacher of first through fourth grade for almost 20 years now, I’m lucky enough to bear frequent witness to the palpable thrill a child feels when they’re really on the road towards becoming an independent reader. She feels capable, proud, and ready to explore this new world of books that has opened up before her.

It’s exciting when a child discovers a favorite series or a new author and curls up in the classroom library on a beanbag, enraptured. It’s wonderful to be a part of the journey as a child develops the stamina and skill to read for longer periods of time and to decode even the most difficult of words. It’s here that I offer some advice. Decoding new words is one part of being a reader. Fluency is another. Comprehension is another part, and the bulk of your time with your developing reader is wisely spent delving into comprehension.

What is “close reading?”

Comprehension is where it’s at in the Common Core Standards, and, much more importantly, comprehension is where it’s at in life. Without comprehension, time spent reading the words on the page is wasted. These new standards are changing the way reading is taught in America, and one of the biggest changes for kids is the “close reading” of texts.

Close reading is a key part of the new standards. What it means is that children are expected to attend more closely to the intimate details of a text than ever before. Your child is being asked to bring a critical eye to what she is reading – to examine what’s on the page in terms of its meaning, structure, details, or patterns. Close reading is about readers coming back to a  passage or text again and again.

The opposite of close reading is simply reading the words through, not thinking about or discussing what they’ve read, and then abandoning a book after it has been read one time. Use the time when you’re reading together to share observations and thoughts about the structure of the book, the author’s choice of layout or words and the little features on the page that they notice or find interesting.

How to help your child increase reading comprehension

There are several children in my class who, when I ask them to bring their book over and read with me, decode difficult words and then skip right over them, not asking what these words mean or how a new word or phrase might be influencing the meaning of the sentence. I coach the children by slowing them down and asking if they know what the new word or phrase means. If they don’t, I provide them with strategies so they can figure out the meanings of new words and phrases with growing independence.

At school, your child’s teacher will be asking questions as your child reads, modeling good reading behavior alongside your child and sharing in the reading. You can do this at home, too. Ponder the meaning of new words and phrases aloud. Show your child how you look for root words within words, clues in the sentence around the unknown word or phrase, and examine what kind of word it is. Is it an adjective or a noun, an adverb or a proper noun? How do we know? Talk about new word meanings, or show your child how to use a children’s dictionary to find the meanings of words.

If your child is reading in another room, have them jot down new words or phrases on a homemade bookmark or on a post it note as they read and then you can discuss their new words with them later when you are free.

How many times have you read a passage in a book yourself and left feeling uncertain about what you just read? It happens to me all the time. Reading with presence requires our full attention and concentration, and of course, this is the same for children. Rereading difficult passages is often the key to greater understanding, as is talking over what you’ve just read with someone else. This holds true for adults and children alike. Three key steps are:

  1. Ask your child to reread when something is unclear or hard to understand.
  2. Ask him questions that go beyond the literal and encourage your child to infer, reason, and explain their thinking.
  3. Ask your child her opinion and encourage her to back up her ideas and opinions with evidence from the text. This is a particularly good question to ask as the Common Core Standards place huge weight on having kids explain their thinking by referring to evidence in the text.

Read the “right” books

In my third grade classroom, children often read to me from books that are too complex. They may be able to read each word, but the plot, structure, or content of the book are not fully accessible because of the child’s reading ability or the developmental appropriateness of a text.

You can help your child identify if a book is too hard for him at this point in his reading life. If a child struggles to decode five words on one page of a chapter book, the book is likely too hard for your child to read independently. When a book is too difficult, fluency is interrupted and comprehension suffers. Taking a little bit of time to match your child to a book which is “just right” for them will yield many benefits – including confidence and enjoyment of reading. Ask your child’s teacher to help you find a “just right” book for your child if you are having trouble finding one.

Of course, the most important thing of all, when it comes to any kind of reading, is that the reader is making sense of what they’re reading (having fun when reading is obviously very important, too). Sometimes, we as readers have to read for a purpose other than pleasure. We may have to read for work, for information, or for an exam. This kind of reading can be arduous when vocabulary is specific to a topic and unfamiliar.

When you read books for fun with your child, this is an opportunity for you to empower her with strategies for finding meaning that they can use on their own when they’re doing a less enjoyable kind of reading. Ask your child to summarize or retell the paragraph, page, or chapter they just read. What just happened? What was the big idea or theme? What do you think about this book? Why?

But don’t take it all too seriously…

Here’s the thing. You’re not a teacher, you’re a parent. Which means that you get to do the fun stuff – reading in your jammies by the light of a flashlight and reading silly, crazy books in silly, crazy voices. Reading with your child should not feel like a lesson and it shouldn’t feel like hard work. It should be fun, there should be ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ and laughter and giggles and joy in the simple pleasure of reading together.

The ideas above are simply things to think about; maybe something will strike a chord and work within your reading routine, maybe it won’t. If reading with your child feels like an inquisition, is exhausting, or lacking in enjoyment, then it’s time to change tack. Read with your child daily, have fun together as you read, and laugh.

As the great Dr. Seuss says, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!” Just enjoy the ride with your young reader every day, and the Common Core Standards will simply take care of itself. Really.

A Literacy Coach’s Advice On How to Keep Kids Reading This Summer

Kids can lose up to three months of reading achievement if they don’t pick up a book this summer. This literacy coach-approved challenge can help.

As a literacy coach, it sometimes pains me that books are not always my kids go-to activity. They are much more likely to pick up their technology, their art supplies, or the toad that lives in the backyard when they want to unwind.

While these can all be great ways to spend time and can even be great for your brain, they cannot replace having a rich reading life.

I have such great memories of getting lost in books for days as a kid and I want this for them, too. There are so many other reasons beyond just wanting to recreate my childhood joy with them. I know now what I didn’t know then: that reading is one of the things that has the biggest impact on our kids academically. 

The Research Journal of the American Association of School Librarians has found that, “The amount of free reading done outside of school has consistently been found to relate to growth in vocabulary, reading comprehension, verbal fluency, and general information. Students who read independently become better readers, score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas, and have greater content knowledge than those who do not.”

These are things which, of course, I care about, but most importantly, reading opens up new worlds and ways of thinking to them while they sit on the couch. Amazing stuff.

Most of the research around reading points us in a direction that makes it easy for us as parents to help kids. According to the American Library Association, it’s actually ridiculously simple. Kids become better readers by reading. A lot. They should choose the books they read and those books should be ones that they can easily read in a week or two all on their own. Kids should have a chance to talk about what they are reading, ask questions and share their thinking. Done and done.

Using these basics and keeping all the extra teacher stuff that crowds my brain out of the equation (I am sometimes tempted to do comprehension checks and reading conferences, but this is reading for pleasure so that might get in the way of their fun), I set up our summer reading kick off. My goal: to keep it simple and something that would run itself once we got started. Here it is:

1 | Let kids know why it is important for them to read. 

I let my kids in on the fact that reading more books will help them. According to Kylene Beers, one of my favorite reading experts, kids who read 10-15 books in the summer gain as much academically as those who attend a summer school program to help their reading achievement.

The opposite of this is a little scary. Kids who don’t read in the summer lose two to three months of reading achievement. We talk about how all their hard work in the last quarter of school doesn’t even count if they don’t read over the summer. And who wants that? I have found unequivocally in my work with students that they love to be told WHY we are having them do something. Remember when your little ones couldn’t stop asking, “Why?” They still think it when they are big (if we are lucky). Once I have them motivated it is pretty easy to make reading goals.

2 | Get them thinking about what they want to read. 

The first rule here is that kids are in charge of choosing what they will read.  There will be books read about Five Nights at Freddy’s, Minecraft, snakes, fishing….nothing is off limits. Just because I wouldn’t pick it doesn’t mean my kid can’t enjoy it. So high five to our friend Captain Underpants and a summer of the classics turned into graphic novels. Let them choose and they might surprise themselves by loving it.

At the same time, kids might not know what’s out there for them to choose from. I share stories with them about books I love. I put these books in their hands after “selling” them on these. I bring them to the library to hear book talks, find lists online of great reads, do whatever I can to hype-up different titles so they can’t wait to read them. 

Help your kids voice their interests, then help them find some nonfiction or other texts that align with these. If you are excited about books or about finding new things to read, they will be too.

3 | Kids and parents make reading goals. 

Start by making a list of books you want to read or reread. We simply counted the weeks in the summer and then chose a title we wanted to read that week. For us, this meant hitting the internet and friends for recommendations. The goal is ONE BOOK A WEEK. Choosing a longer text (over 200 pages) might cover two weeks. If it’s going to take all summer to read one book, that book might be a little above the level you want to tackle for this particular challenge.

Getting the audiobook version of these longer books and encouraging kids to listen over the course of a week is a great alternative. We want kids to be able to read books that they want to read. If kids are putting time in reading and it is still taking longer than two weeks, help them adjust their book choice.

Younger kids who are not yet reading chapter books might choose a book a day. For example, my eight-year-old is enjoying simple chapter books right now, but can read one in just a few days, so she is trying for two books a week.

4 | Display and track your goals.

This might be a simple paper chart, a sticker chart, or using a site like Goodreads to make a group and track your reading. A visible reminder of goals is essential so you can track progress and regroup. And you may have to regroup.

Again, your kids might need to adjust the length or level of books they’re choosing, or they might find they reader faster or slower than they thought. Make the challenge one that each kid can attain, even if you have to change up the goal part of the way through.

5 | Talk about what you’re reading. 

Reading is a great social activity. Those of us who love to read know the power of finding someone else that has read a book that we love. It’s so fun to be able to share what we thought about the book. Just like if we run into someone who knows a friend of ours. Books can be our friends and we should talk about them! Ask your kids things like:

  • What is happening so far?
  • Who are the characters?
  • Do you have a favorite part?
  • Does the book make sense?
  • Are there any funny parts?

Chat about your books in the car, after they read, around the dinner table, whenever you can. This doesn’t have to be formal, but it will help you help your kids find books they like and will keep everyone engaged. A family read aloud is also an awesome way to get more reading in and will help you bond over books. For more ideas about reading aloud to your kids, check out this post.

6 | Make reading its own reward. 

In my experience, when kids read for a prize and the prize is attained, they stop reading unless there is another prize. They have learned to read for the prize instead of reading for the joy. Alfie Kohn has written extensively about this in the field of education. I’ve seen it in action and believe so much in what he says about rewards: “Rewards don’t bring about the changes we are hoping for, but the point here is also that something else is going on: the more rewards are used, the more they seem to be needed. Pretty soon, the provision of rewards becomes habitual because there seems to be no way to do without them.”

This is so true with kids and reading. My goal is for them to love it so they will continue to read because of that love, not because they’re getting something or because they want to please me. Our fun will come from talking about our books and from finding things we love. If all goes well, I’ll surprise them at the end with a coffee at Barnes and Noble and we’ll all buy ourselves the first book of the school year. This will be a celebration, not something they’ve earned or worked for. Just a time to chat about how much fun we had with our books (fingers crossed).

That’s it. Make goals, make a plan to reach them, and track your progress. If you have trouble fitting reading into your summer craziness, dedicate a half hour or two 15-minute periods a day to read. Make sure kids bring books with them to practices, the pool, wherever you are headed. In my family, if we all just read in the car they will read hours everyday, no joke!

We are just off and running with the challenge here and hopefully we’ll read more this summer than ever before. I believe that just trying to be more intentional by keeping reading on the radar will make us more successful in the end. Would you like to join us? Leave a comment letting us know you’re in!

Some things to help get you started: