Seven “Not-So-Obvious” Reasons to Keep Your Kids Reading Over the Summer
by Amanda Cleary Eastep
From staring out the classroom window to climbing the walls at home, by early June, your kids were probably exhibiting symptoms of summer-itis. Sitting quietly with a book and a summer reading list was not on their minds. Whether you’re already halfway through that list or your family is getting a late start, making reading a regular part of the sunnier days benefits your kids—and you—in ways you may not have considered.
1. Structure: By July, the initial “we’re free!” chorus has probably changed its tune to “we’re bored!” But lack of structure doesn’t equate with freedom. In fact, a lack of structure during the summer break can cause stress, both for kids and parents. Books, by their very nature, are structured. The beginning, middle and end narrative arc of every story a child reads—or has read to them—actually encourages the brain to think in sequence. For a child, reading links cause and effect and expands their attention span.
How to: Connect regular reading time to another structured activity, such as 15 minutes before dinnertime.
2. Not schoolwork: Naturally, children associate books and reading with school. But reading, just as naturally, should be part of a child’s life outside of school. As long as we don’t make summer reading feel like homework, it will reinforce the skills they acquired during the school year and prepare them for next year.
How to: Schedule reading time in a way that will help your child make positive attachments to the activity—think audiobooks in the car on a family road trip, family read-alouds around an evening bonfire or a new middle grade adventure while snug in a hammock under a shade tree.
3. Family intimacy: Reading engages the imagination—the door to another place and time swings wide. When you’re reading with your child—at bedtime or in a comfy chair—you both walk through that door together. Via your collective imaginations, you experience another world together. Did you know that, especially with fiction, the same neurological regions in our brain are stimulated whether we’re reading about an experience or living it?
How to: The how here isn’t as important as the why: bonding with your child. You share experiences in real life; share the grand adventure in a book in the safety and security of your home. “In those intimate spaces, children absorb the messages ‘I belong’ and ‘I am valuable,’” writes author and homeschooler Amber O’Neal Johnston.
4. Moral imagination: What happens in the brain leads to an important point: books form the moral imagination. In his book, Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child's Moral Imagination, Professor Vigen Guorian explains that because a child has limited life experiences, a story invites them into an experience they may not have had before. When your child relates to a character, they begin to, on some level, experience what the character is experiencing. They’ll wonder how they might respond in that same situation. What better opportunity to encourage this formation as it’s happening?
How to: When your children tell you about the stories they’re reading, you might ask them: What would you do in that character’s situation? Why or why not?
5. Sets standards: By curating what your kids read over the summer, either by compiling a list or getting one from a trusted source, you’ve chosen books based on your family's beliefs and values. Include books with characters that share similar traits with your children; but also introduce them to people of other cultures and life experiences. Books can serve as both mirrors in which kids see themselves, but also “windows into the wider world,” writes Johnston. When children read from a diverse, but curated, bookshelf, your family’s personal library sets the bar. When choosing books on their own, for instance at a library or bookstore, your children will more likely measure books against your family’s standards.
How to: Not sure where to begin? There are many websites that provide comprehensive book reviews and recommendations for Christian families, including redeemedreader.com and goodbookmom.com.
6. Enhances summer activities: Books can be matched to the real-life experiences of summer. Is there a trip, event or activity your family has planned? Find a story that includes that same setting, occasion or experience. Is your family going through a big change such as moving? Look for a book that helps children deal with the transition. In Jack vs. the Tornado, book one in my middle grade series, the summer begins with Jack’s worst 10th birthday present ever: moving from the farm to the suburbs of Chicago.
How to: This one will take a little planning ahead. Go to your trusted book lists, like those mentioned above, to search for books by topic.
7. Devotional time: If you find that sticking with a family devotional “plan” or reading the Bible with your child presents a bigger challenge during the summer, consider using whatever book is open in front of you and the kids and the simple activity below. This activity is more about practicing a heightened awareness of the connection between imagination and faith than keeping a regular schedule or turning every reading time into lesson time.
How to: What you’ll need…
● 5-10 minutes
● A current book your child is reading or you are reading to your child
● A question
● A Bible or Bible app for quick Scripture reference
Example: After dinner, you and your older child read another chapter of his or her favorite fantasy series.
Ask your child a few questions: What is happening right now in the story? How is your character feeling? Have you felt that way or had a similar experience?
Read (or retell) a few Bible verses or a parable that relates to the scene or theme of the chapter. For instance, if the character in the book has to decide whether to forgive an enemy, read Matthew 5:43-45 (NIV) about loving your enemies.
Pray together about a situation in your child’s life that might relate. In the example above, it might mean to pray for strength and wisdom in dealing with a bully.
Happy summer reading!
 “Your Brain on Books, 10 Things that Happen to Our Minds When We Read,” Open Education Database, https://oedb.org/ilibrarian/your-brain-on-books-10-things-that-happen-to-our-minds-when-we-read/.
 Annie Murphy Paul, “Your Brain on Fiction,” The New York Times, March 17, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-neuroscience-of-your-brain-on-fiction.html.
 Amber O’Neal Johnston, A Place to Belong, Celebrating Diversity and Kinship in the Home and Beyond (New York: TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2022), 65.
 Amber O’Neal Johnston, A Place to Belong, Celebrating Diversity and Kinship in the Home and Beyond (New York: TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2022), 57.
Amanda Cleary Eastep is not related to Beverly Cleary but wishes she were. She is, however, a children’s author, and the Tree Street Kids is her middle grade (8-12) series. Lions to the Rescue! and Mystery in Crooked Creek Woods, books 3 and 4 in the series, released in July. Amanda knows kids because she’s still one at heart. When she is forced to act like an adult, she edits nonfiction books by grownup authors. Meet the kids—Jack, Midge, Ellison, Roger and Ruthie (and Arrow and Hen!)—at treestreetkids.com.