Family Connection

It's summertime, and the living is easy. The sun's out (sometimes), and so are the lawnmowers and hammocks. Seems like the perfect time to do nothing. Wait, no, that's not right. There is something that will make every family's hot summer cool: reading!

School may be out, but that doesn't mean your family shouldn't read. Actually, now is a better time than any to start reading more. Long days mean lots of time for doing, and why not let some of that be filling our brains (young or near-young) with imagination and excitement?

Here's my challenge to you: start your family on a fun summer reading program. Make a summer book chart for each member of your family, with space for titles, dates finished, and what you enjoyed. Yes, parents can do this too! Reading is good for everyone. Sit down together and talk about the books you and your children have read, and see what excited them or didn't. Not only is this fun family time, it's also a great way to learn what kinds of books your kids love.

To encourage summer reading, we're having our Summer Reading Club at MudPuddles. Sign your school-age kids up and pick up a reading log, and you get 10 percent off every summer book you buy in the store. Remember, though, this doesn't let you grownups off the hook! Summer is a time for reading at all ages.

How do you choose good books for you and your family? Not a simple question, but here are a few suggestions that might make it easier. One approach that is both fun and effective is to share books with friends and other families. If you know someone whose kids enjoy similar kinds of books as yours do, you have a recipe for twice the reading fun. The recommendation of someone you know can be one of the best ways to find books that your family will like, and provides a good topic to talk about once everyone has read them.

Get to know your librarian or bookstore employees. They work with books all day, and often know quite a bit about children's books. Armed with the information you got by talking with your kids about the books they've read, you can ask for titles that are similar to those they liked, or recommendations for others.

Another useful tool in your book-choosing belt is the book award. There are several important awards out there (Caldecott, Newberry, etc.), and many publishers print the award's seal on the book's cover, making them easy to spot. These books have been chosen by people who know a lot about kids' books, and are often incredible works. Of course, your children may not enjoy every one of them, but the list of award-winners at the library or MudPuddles sure gives you an easy place to start.

Your kids' minds are like powerful muscles, and you don't want them to get out of shape just because they're not in school. Consider adding some fun educational reading to the mix to flex that brain-muscle! The Summer Bridge activity books are a great way to keep young minds limber while school is out. Using bright colors and a fun presentation, these age-specific books are a great way to keep up the practice with spelling, math, or whatever else your child is learning. They may be filled with learning activities, but kids really do love them. The books are marked for the grade your child has graduated and the one she's entering (e.g. '1st-2nd'), so you don't have to worry about getting separate activity books to cover all the subjects you need. The most important thing is that the Summer Bridge activity books are a fun way to keep your child's mind in shape over the long break!

There are all sorts of other creative additions to the summer reading list besides just novels, or even books. For example, now might be a good time to introduce your reader to the newspaper, either at your home or the library. Your older child can learn vast amounts about the world by reading the news, and it makes a great conversation starter. Or maybe you'll discover this summer that your child loves to read poetry. Or listen to audio books. Or browse science magazines. The summer reading possibilities truly are endless.

Hopkins and Middleton Elementary Schools took these possibilities and made a fun summer game out of them. Pick up a Hopkins or Middleton Book Bingo board, where each square has one unusual reading assignment ('I read to an adult this summer'), and you get a special prize if you get bingo by the end of the summer! Even if your kids don't go to these schools, this is still a great way to stretch their minds by stretching their reading. Come up with different categories of reading that your family might not do otherwise, and use those as special reading goals. This might mean you read a newspaper, read out loud together, share a book with a friend, go to story time at the library or MudPuddles, write a story, or whatever else your family might not do regularly.

Summer may seem long now, but think of all the great stories you'll be able to tell about all the great stories you've read. Make summertime a reading time!

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