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August 25, 2005

Why I Loathe...Abhor and Out-and-Out Hate Required Summer Reading For Kids

Posted by admin

I love to read and I am lucky enough to have children who love to read. This is why I loathe, abhor and out-and-out HATE required summer reading for kids. It takes away the pleasure of reading.

I put this in the same category as homework projects that require parental involvement for trips to the craft store, glue of any sort (as ours is ALWAYS dried up no matter how many containers I buy) or participation from me or a skilled professional. I can see you all rolling your eyes and commiserating. But, I digress.

My older son came home with a list of reading choices that gave me pause. I recognized some of the titles that had been on my summer list decades ago. I always think these remain as there are teachers somewhere saying, "Well, if we had to read it, they should too." In the "free pick" area there were some best selling authors, but none of the titles that I might recommend. There were just a list of titles, with no annotation on why kids might appreciate reading them. You know, the one line that appears on bestseller lists. I looked it trying to help him decide what to read. I made a few light pencil marks and a couple of enthusiastic picks, but I was not wowed. Meanwhile I had a stack of books I knew he would love.

So, reading became a chore instead of a pleasure. Here it is, August 25th and my avid-reader son has read one of his four required books with less than three weeks til school starts! I notice he has read less this summer than usual. I cannot help but think it was because the "task" of reading these four books was upon him.

A few weeks ago we spent a weekend with both my sister, her children and a good friend of mine. Summer reading came up both days. My niece, Sara, was moaning that she spent the summer reading four books that she did not particularly like while she could not get to the stack of books that I had sent her way that we loved on She was frustrated. My nephew, Josh, who is not a reader, was even less enthused by this process. Trust that his list was not going to forge a reading passion in sports-oriented Josh. It was going to give my sister a challenge as she tried to get him to finish the book. I cannot remember what either of them were reading, the books were that forgettable. What it did launch was a conversation between my sister and me about our own distaste for summer reading when we were in school. We could remember every book we loathed. We laughed as we saw them still on the kids'lists.

That same weekend my friend Jimmy's boys were quick to tell me what was on their required lists, complete with eyerolls --- Alex was to read LITTLE MEN and Mitchell was assigned JANE EYRE. Neither was very excited or embracing this as a terrific chance to explore some classics. It was perceived as --- a chore. Meanwhile I passed them a box of books that afternoon as we were leaving and smiled as Alex gave a wave with one hand while never looking up from the book he held in the other as we said goodbye. And it was not LITTLE MEN that had him reading. Jimmy later told me he was 100 pages into the book the next day.

Now on the other hand, my younger son does not have any required reading and has been flying through books all summer. He regularly appears at the door when I get home asking me what I have for him to read. I like that look. It's the kind of hunger you want to see when you are trying to create a lifelong reader. You can't create that by ordering it to happen. I see him hand books to friends to read. I see him get reluctant readers thinking about picking up a book. Seeing him deep in thought while reading a book makes me want to read it, to see what is exciting him.

Next summer I'd love the school to ask my older son to pick four books, read them and be prepared to write on why he chose them, what he learned from reading them and who he would want to share them with and why. Trust that it would be a far better and more meaningful exercise than the one we are experiencing this summer.