Editor’s Note: Every Tuesday, Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer take questions from readers about their kids’ education. Have one? Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Abby and Brian,
My third grader hates reading and we’d all been looking forward to a respite this summer, when he wouldn’t need to read each night and we wouldn’t need to force him to do so. But we just received the summer-reading assignment from his teacher, which requires him to read a minimum of six books and write three book reports. After the year he’s had, do I really need to force him to do this work over the summer, when he should be relaxing? Won’t it make him hate reading even more?
You’re right that your son needs a break this summer. After the intensity and challenges of the past year and a half, kids need time to relax and recharge—ideally outdoors, with friends, and far from the glare of a screen. But taking a break shouldn’t mean ignoring academic skills altogether. Summer reading is crucial to reducing the gap between students who struggle and those who succeed. Your son’s teacher is right to assign work that will help him retain skills gained during the school year and set him up to thrive come fall.
You describe a common vicious cycle. A student’s lack of skills or confidence in a particular subject leads to his avoiding it, which in turn leads to more pressure from parents and teachers for him to work harder, which can leave him feeling even worse. You’re being forced to choose between making him read so that he keeps apace and leaving him alone so that he doesn’t come to hate reading even more—an impossible choice. To break the cycle, you’ll need to make reading more enjoyable, and more routine, for him.
Start off by helping him find books that he’s likely to take pleasure in. Even the most reluctant readers have topics or genres that they prefer. While the thought of another book about soccer or aliens may make you cringe, your priority should be finding books that he likes, or at least doesn’t dread.
You might plan an outing with him to the bookstore. After a year of remote learning, picking a physical book from a physical shelf is especially rewarding. If the school assigned a summer-reading list, bring it along so you can look it over with your son. Read some of the synopses together to see which most interest him, and let him choose a couple of books. Before your outing, consider asking your son’s teacher for recommendations.
After he’s chosen his summer-reading books, help your son plan how to get through them by establishing a routine. He should choose a particular time of day that he’ll do his reading. Maybe it’ll be right after breakfast or every night before bed. What’s important is consistency: Reading will become more of a habit and less of a battle if he has a regular time when he expects to be doing it.
When mapping out time to read, frequency is key. To reinforce his skills, 15 to 20 minutes of daily reading is better than, say, two hours every Sunday. He might jot down a sentence-long summary and a reaction every day or two after completing his reading so that writing a book report will be easier when he finishes the book.
If your son has required reading that seems daunting, suggest that you do it together. Shared reading can make a text more engaging and accessible, so you might start a book club with him. Some kids won’t want parents reading with them, but others find it a massive relief. You know your son best, so don’t push if he’s resistant.
Your goal should be to weave reading into his life in such a way that it won’t require a daily battle. He may never love reading, but by giving him agency and helping him create a routine, you’ll make this summer more relaxing for both of you.
By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.