A Few Good Moms: Can you handle the truth about summer reading?

It’s SUMMER and it’s VACATION and why can’t I just CHILL OUT?
It’s SUMMER and it’s VACATION and why can’t I just CHILL OUT? Getty Images/iStockphoto

The mom’s gaze begins at the overdue notice for the books her third grader checked out from the library, then travels to the woefully under-shaded mapping of her reading progress, and finally comes to rest on the calendar. The heat of August brings a simmering pressure to complete those tasks that are required for back-to-school . . . including all of those books.

You want the truth about summer reading? I think you can handle it.

Ah, the summer reading requirement. No big deal, right? When you receive the reading assignment for the summer you quickly file it away in the back drawer of your mental file cabinet, because it’s May and you have to get the drinks for the end-of-year party and organize the carpool to the lacrosse tournament and send in the camp deposit and plus, it’s just reading, easy breezy.

And in the beginning, it is all fun and games. When my kids were in lower school they were given a blocking maze to color as they accomplished 30-minute reading segments. It snaked around the page and all blocks colored meant that you had done the required work. Coloring the blocks is painless. In fact, my guys were all, sweet, where are the markers, I’m doing mine in Carolina blue. But then they remembered that you had to actually read before you colored. Cue needle screeching across record. Complaints. Resistance. Procrastination.

This is super annoying to the book-loving mom. Why, oh why the opposition to reading? My guys would say because it’s SUMMER and it’s VACATION and why can’t I just CHILL OUT? Since you asked, here’s why:

First, reading rocks and you need it for every important thing in life and does that sound too judge-y or parental? So sorry, but the truth hurts. You’ve got to be able to read. The End.

Second, summer reading is the best there is! How many happy memories do I have of indulging in a great read over the summer months when I was a kid? I remember discovering Pat Conroy, Anne Tyler, Carson McCullers and so many other wonderful authors all while curled up in a hammock or lounging by the pool or with the soothing sound of waves crashing in the background. The slower pace, the ability to be transported through a book, the subsequent daydreaming . . . all made possible by reading during the summer season.

So I really wanted my boys to read, and finally they did . . . but just the fine print on the reading assignment. This stated that they would need to read on their own, of course, but that other reading experiences could also count towards their goal – like, audiobooks or being read to by an adult. This became their rallying cry. Since I liked reading so much why didn’t I just jump right in there and get the party started?

Well, of course I used to read to my kids a lot, back in the day. When they were small I was like a one-woman show with the bedtime book, as evidenced by my youngest’s rendition of Brown Bear, Brown Bear. His memorized version came complete with my signature vocal flourishes and suspenseful pauses. But admittedly, once they were able to do it on their own, I read to them less often. Now I needed to get back in the game. But for just how long was my presence required? This could be a massive addition to my To Do list.

After a shameful initial thought to grab the nearest Dr. Seuss and call it a day, I realized this was my chance to offer up an experience like the ones I had enjoyed. We had several hours of travel in the car coming up, and I could fill them with a great book.

And so I picked up Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, and began. I read and read until I was hoarse. The boys loved it. We finished the book over that vacation, and then I started Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. By the time I was halfway through with the story my oldest son was sneaking it during breaks and reading it on his own.

And after that, he read Book Three and the rest of the series independently. His brother and I enjoyed another read-together experience with the amazing book, Wonder, a story that changed his perspective on reading, too. I was amazed at how fun it was to read these great stories together; this was pleasantly different from reading little kid books to them.

Now that they are older they are both strong readers. This is not to say that we never have pushback on assignments, but at least I know they have experienced the power of a good book.

Some may see the summer reading assignment as a painful rite of passage for kids. Some may see it as a painful rite of passage for parents. There was once a time when I was among them, but the truth is, the real homework that summer was for Mom to learn that treasured experiences offer a chance to bond – when they are shared with those you love.

Want to get a better handle on summer reading? See how reading has gone to the dogs with this article from the Charlotte Observer, admire young Brick Heck’s passion for books with his speech from The Middle, and enjoy a scene from the story that turned my young illiterates into enthusiastic readers.