Parents urged to schedule reading time for kids

June 25, 2000|By Diane Mikulis | Diane Mikulis,SUN STAFF

Whether it was sent home on the last day of school or arrived in the mail with the report card, the "suggested," "recommended" - or even "required" - summer reading list is a seasonal rite.

But parents sometimes have difficulty motivating children to crack those books amid the distractions of summer - and not wait until Labor Day looms on the horizon.

Educators, librarians and parents agree on a few things: Time should be set aside for reading; books need to be available; and rewards, especially monetary, should be played down.

For Susan Sartory, lower school librarian at McDonogh School, daily family reading time is a springboard to independent reading.

"We read aloud as a family," she says, "I get them hooked [on the book] and then turn it over to them to finish."

But as children grow older, they may become less interested in reading with the family. The challenge then is getting them to read on their own.

Despite not wanting to read, Danny Johnson, 10, of Lutherville in Baltimore County spends a half-hour a day with books because it's required by Gilman School. This summer, he has to choose and read seven books from a list.

"His biggest problem is his book-opening muscle," says his mother, Joyce. "Once he opens [a book], I can't get him to quit reading."

Having books around is another key element of a summer reading strategy.

Sandra Ashe, principal of John Eager Howard Elementary School, suggests that families regularly visit the library, and that all school-age children have library cards. Kids also can participate in the reading programs that most libraries offer during the summer.

Homeschooler Melissa Simmens of Columbia frequently takes her four children to the library. But she finds that going to a bookstore can be a strong motivator for the children, the oldest of whom is 9.

"We go on shopping binges," she says. "Most of our books come from the library, but they enjoy buying their own novels."

Many experts advise caution with the use of incentives, saying reading should be its own reward.

Sartory is adamant about not tying reading to monetary rewards. It might be more appropriate, she says, to promise a family activity, day trip to an amusement park or even extra video time when children reach their reading goals.

With required reading lists, the reward may be doing well on class work when school resumes.

Johnson's daughter, Christy, a seventh-grader at St. Paul's School for Girls, must read two novels this summer provided by the school. In September, she'll participate in discussions and be tested on the books.

Noreen Lidston, headmistress of the lower school at McDonogh School, takes a different tack to encouraging students.

She has kissed a pig, jumped out of a boat in the middle of the school's pond, eaten her hat, and been affixed to the wall with tape.

A tough act for parents to follow.

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