If you are like me, you can remember so vividly the first moments when your son started to memorize the letters of the alphabet.  It seemed like absolute magic as he began to associate letters with sounds, and then string them together to create a word.  I remember the pride on my son’s face when he finally got it. If your son felt such accomplishment and wonder in reading then, why is it a battle to get him to read now?

For active boys, asking them to sit quietly and read can seem very removed from what they like to do.  For some of our boys, reading is just plain hard.  They may have learning differences that make reading and reading comprehension especially challenging.  Battle lines can be drawn between kids who associate reading with boredom or struggle and parents who know how important it is to academic success.  It can be very difficult for parents to know how to negotiate the reading wars.  Do you push your son to read risking making him hate it even more, or do you keep the peace and risk them falling behind in their reading comprehension?

Before you declare defeat in the reading war this summer, consider the following options to engage your son in reading.

  • Let him read anything. Independent reading time doesn’t have to be the time to push your son into challenging books if he is a reluctant reader. I know that we get sick of Captain Underpants or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books especially if they have read it twice already, but there is value in every opportunity your child has to read. They will not become better readers if they stop reading, and so letting your kids pick any book they want helps them enjoy the act of connecting with the written word more.  Even graphic novels, Guinness World Record books, picture encyclopedias, or books that are beneath their reading level are great choices for independent reading time.  In fact, these can be the perfect fit for kids who struggle or who don’t think that they are good readers.

  • Don’t stop reading to your son!  Often parents stop reading with their child once he has become an independent reader but continuing to read with your upper elementary or middle school-aged son has tremendous benefits.  Reading nightly to your older children allows you the opportunity to choose a more challenging book with more advanced vocabulary or complex plot techniques.  This can also be a time to tackle topics about bullying, body image, and peer pressure through literature.  These tough subjects become easier to discuss when we start talking about how they affect characters in a book rather than ourselves.  Seeing reality through the lens of a fictional character can be revealing to kids.  Additionally, reading to your older kids can be scheduled one-on-one time during the day when you can reconnect.

  • Talk to your kids about books.  Many lifelong readers engage not only with books through independent reading but by discussing what they read as well.  In their classrooms, reading is always accompanied by discussion and analysis of the text.  Helping students understand not just the words but the relationships between characters, setting, and plot are skills key to developing reading comprehension.  Ask your son to summarize events or what happened to certain characters.  Ask him to predict what will happen in the coming pages, or to make connections between different books he might have read.  Talking to kids and asking them to make connections as they read reminds them that they are not just being entertained, but that they should remain an active thinkers.

  • Model reading for your children.  Reading at home can turn into a battle when kids don’t ever see their parents reading, and because you may not always have time to sit down with a novel, they may not realize how much you read.  Make sure that they know when you are reading the paper or reading articles online, or that you read at work.  You can talk about the value of your own reading, what you learned, and how it may have created new questions or opportunities to explore a topic further.  In that way, they know that reading doesn’t end when you leave school.

  • Consider facilitating a book club for your child and his friends in the summer.  Round up the neighborhood kids, or the travel baseball team, and ask each child to pick a book a week for everyone to read.  You can arrange a playdate to discuss the book, work on a book related craft, or other activity.  Think about your son and his friends reading The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies and setting up their own lemonade stand or reading Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein and setting up a serious of puzzles for each other to solve.  Of course, with either book, the book club event would have to include lemon squares and lemonade.

  • Don’t forget the travel reading. Many of us are programmed to bring out the DVD player, laptop, or iPad when we have a long car ride or flight, but an ebook or audiobook can be just as entertaining.  If your son struggles with reading, being able to listen can take the pressure off and just allow him to enjoy a story.  Sites like Bookflix through INFOhio animates books, making them feel more like short films while highlighting the text as it is read aloud.  For your emerging and new readers, this can be a great way to read, listen, and watch all at once.

At the end of the day, you need to make reading a routine. Your kids need to know that they are expected to read every single day.  By building it into your days, even busy days, they will know that this isn’t a battle to be fought - it’s just what happens in your house.  But, being too rigid with your schedule can cause the conflict to flare up again.  If you normally ask your son to read in the evening when he is tired and cranky, he might be more likely to start a reading battle.  Try reading after lunch or breakfast instead.  Take your books outside and let kids pick a spot in the yard for their reading.  Create a special reading fort out of blankets for rainy days.  Take your books to the local coffee shop when you need to just get out of the house.  But whatever you do, don’t give up.  If you are strategic in your battles, you will ultimately win the war!

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Lisa Ulery, Director of Technology and Libraries at University School

Lisa Ulery, the Director of Technology and Libraries at University School, has over 15 years of teaching and library experience in both public and independent schools. With a master's degree Instructional Technology, she is passionate about helping teachers and students balance their technology-rich lives.