I remember my childhood summer days were almost always a combination of lots of TV watching and swimming. Sound familiar? School is tough and exhausting. I definitely want my kids to have some time this summer to decompress and recharge so they will be ready to return in the fall.
However, one of my biggest concerns during the summer is that my kids will forget critical things they’ve learned during the school year while they veg out all summer. My solution: a few activities staggered throughout the summer that stimulate their brains in fun, engaging ways. The first activity for us last summer was a family-wide read-a-thon.
About a week ahead of time, I started telling my kids about the activity so I could build up a little hype and get them excited. I have four boys ages 8, 8, 7, and 4 (my baby girl is not yet 2, so she really didn’t know what was going on).
On Monday, I gave each boy a read-a-thon goal sheet. Each boy is at a different reading level and has his own interests and tastes. This goal sheet gave them a chance to think about what they wanted to read for the Friday read-a-thon, and what sort of goals they wanted to set for themselves. (Note: I love to give my kids opportunities to set attainable goals for themselves. It is so great to watch them working towards a goal and to see their confidence grow when they achieve their goals.)
During the week, we talked about how they could set up sleeping bags anywhere they wanted in the house. I also let them voice their opinions for the types of snacks we would make. All week they kept saying things like, “I can’t wait for our read-a-thon!” or “I can’t believe it’s almost Friday!” This was good for my soul. Visions of book-reading boys danced in my head.
On Friday, I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies while the boys set up their sleeping bags in their chosen locations. I knew that even though they’d thought about it for days, they would change their minds once the day arrived, so I made sure they had plenty of time to “set up.” My 4-year-old made a fort in the playroom and the older boys all stuck with their sleeping bags.
We popped a little popcorn, which I put in individual cups while the cookies were baking. I set the cookies out on a plate and told them that for today only they could eat these at their sleeping bags and they could eat more without asking. I also set out more popcorn and told them they could refill their cups anytime they wanted.
They were excited! The house was quiet and the boys read for about two straight hours! I helped my 7-year-old finish a Magic Tree House book, but my 8-year-old twins both read very well independently. My 4-year-old hung out in his fort with his big stack of books, sounding out some BOB books, but mostly looking through books and playing inside his fort. I originally intended to spend most of my time reading with him, but he seemed so content, I only read two Dr. Seuss books to him from the entrance of his little fort.
Then we had an unexpected visitor. All reading stamina was lost. Book piles were abandoned and little specks of popcorn dotted empty sleeping bags. The magic spell had been broken. Fortunately, we had already gotten in quite a bit of reading time and I felt very satisfied with our success.
This year I will definitely do the read-a-thon again, but I plan to add a few games for us to play to keep everyone engaged and excited to keep going. If you are thinking of holding a read-a-thon this summer and want to incorporate some games, here are some ideas. If you try any, please let me know how they go, so we can all know for next year!
- Announce to everyone that we are looking for a particular word (you can choose a simple article like “a/an/the” or a more specific noun or verb). The first person to read that word next should jump up and yell “Bingo!” (or any other silly word you choose) and they will win a prize. You could do a few rounds of this if you want or just one every half-hour or something.
- If everyone is reading the same book, you could do a quiz show with questions about the story. This would help with reading comprehension.
- Have each reader take turns reading aloud the next sentence in his/her book to make a funny story. You could do one round or a few rounds.
- Have all readers close their books (bookmarks in place, of course) and then take turns shouting out the last thing they remember reading. For example: “Harry Potter’s wearing his cloak!” or “James is flying in the giant peach!”
Along with breaks for a few games and prizes, we’ll use the goal sheets again because they were great. I’m glad to have this activity as a summer tradition in our home. I can’t wait for this year’s read-a-thon!
QUESTION: How did you spend your summers growing up and what do you think about it now? What did your kids do last summer? What worked for your family and what could be improved upon?
CHALLENGE: Close your eyes and imagine what your kids will be doing this summer. What will they do inside when it’s too hot to be out? What will they do outside? What will they do with friends? What will you do as a family? Jot down some ideas so you can start to make deliberate summer plans. Of course, it will never be exactly like how you imagined it, but it will be better because of the little bit of planning you’ve done. And done is better than perfect!
Edited by Kimberly Price and Nollie Haws.
Images provided by the author. Graphics added by Anna Jenkins.