Reading is (Still) Fundamental!

by Jena Hengstler

A little reading and writing over the summer, in between trips to the pool, is a common recommendation as teachers bid farewell to their students on the last day of school.

Your child may have even brought home a suggested summer reading list or been encouraged to document their time spent reading. However, making that idea appealing to some kids may require a little encouragement. Or a lot of encouragement.

Alternatives to strict reading sessions may be needed to motivate your child to read more and find enjoyment in it. While some children require very little outside motivation to cruise through library books, others may find reading a chore or even a punishment. Especially those who have been counting down the days until they could ditch their leveled reading books for endless hours of Minecraft or Netflix.

Try setting aside the forced ritual of timed reading sessions and launch some of these ideas instead. You might find summer reading and writing practices become less stressful and more enjoyable.

  1. Gift your child a magazine subscription. In a world of Disney+, your choice of app stores and other on-demand methods of instant gratification, perhaps getting a magazine in the mail and having a whole month to read it, will naturally guide them to slow down and enjoy the process. When the topic is interesting and engaging, you won’t have to force a child to read. Try National Geographic Kids for your animal lover, Sports Illustrated for your athlete, Cobblestone for your history enthusiast, or Scout Life for your adventurer.
  2. Design a scavenger hunt. Create a set of clues to get your kids scrambling around the house to find a prize. Encourage your children to read carefully by making inferences and following multi-step directions. Kids are naturally curious and enjoy figuring out a puzzle. When reading is just part of the game, it’s fun rather than forced.
  3. Help your child find a penpal. This timeless activity builds reading and writing skills while helping children to learn more about another person, their culture and their life experiences. Open your child’s eyes to the broader world by helping them connect with someone from a different part of the country or the world. Whether it’s a same-age penpal sharing the latest trends amongst their friends or an elderly family member who can share tales of a different generation, having a penpal can be a fun experience. Worldwide Snail Mail Pen Pals Facebook page or ePals may be helpful resources to help you get started. 
  4. Check out some new audiobooks. Listening is also a literacy skill. Visit your local library or download an audiobook on your child’s mobile device and they’ll have a new option for those long summer road trips, a bedtime story, or entertainment while lazing in the hammock. Audio books, which can strengthen attention and comprehension skills, also tap into auditory learning, freeing children to immerse themselves in the story in new ways.
  5. Try out reader’s theater. When children get the rare opportunity to read a script in school, they often want the biggest speaking part. It’s fun to take on a character and bring them to life. Amazon offers a variety of options and even allows you to search by grade or age range. The whole family can get involved as you act out “Fabulously Funny Fairy Tale Plays” or bring the Lewis and Clark Expedition to life in your living room. Reading a drama exposes children to a different type of literature and provides an opportunity to practice following along and taking turns reading. To take it a step further, you can even challenge the kids to work together and create their own play,  writing the script, complete with cast of characters, stage directions and lines. 

Summer literacy practice doesn’t have to look or feel like practice at all. Reading should naturally bring feelings of purpose, wonder and enjoyment. Writing should be uninhibited, original and leisurely. With a little creativity, we can support the academic practice while taking the pressure off and making it fun. 


Jena Hengstler is an elementary teacher. She always knew she wanted to work in education and has had a 15 year career charged with just as much learning as teaching. Her teaching journey has been filled with successes, trials, love, heartbreak, celebration and humility – all for the love of children. Jena calls the beautiful state of Wyoming her home. She loves doing life with her husband, Larry and her son, Hudson. When she isn’t at school, she enjoys reading, writing, drinking coffee that is still hot, watching sports, being outside and will always make time to watch the sunset.