Why You Shouldn’t Shrug off Your Son’s Reading Habit this Summer

Summer is right around the corner here in the United States bringing with it both good feelings and worry.

For boys, summer equals a long vacation to do what they love every day: nothing, play video games and sports, run around, hang with friends, swim, etc. And who can blame them?

Unfortunately, reading doesn’t make the cut for most boys. It’s the thing they forget about the minute they step outside on the last day of school and don’t remember until they’re reminded to do their summer reading assignment before the next school year begins.

It makes total sense. In boys’ minds, reading equals work, pain even, and something they do for a grade or because they have to. What they don’t see it as is a beneficial habit that positively influences their short- and long-term academic achievement and life’s possibilities.

Hence the Worry: Summer Reading Loss Is A Very Real Problem For Boys

Without the mandatory reading expected of them during the school year, boys who don’t read over the summer unintentionally stunt their academic potential for the following school year. And if they never read over the summer, a research study showed that the academic achievement gap in 9th grade could be traced back to the cumulative effects of not reading over the summer starting in first grade.[i]

Think about it.

Boys are in school for seven hours, five days a week. During any given school day, unless they’re absent, even boys who hate to read can roughly accumulate:

  • 30 minutes of reading/day
  • 5 hours of reading/week
  • 10 hours of reading/month
  • 90 hours of reading/9-month school year

Not much, but definitely something.

Now let’s think about summer vacation when there’s no more mandatory school reading expected. Even if teachers assign summer reading, it can’t adequately make up for the time spent reading during the school year. Plus, these types of assignments typically backfire for aliterate boys (those who have the skill but not the will to read), further undermining and decreasing their reading motivation for the next grade.

To understand what I mean, let’s imagine two sixth-grade boys, Boy A and Boy B, at the end of the school year. They are on the same reading level (6.1), one year behind where they need to be.

Boy A’s mom learned how to initiate the reading habit like a coach during the springtime and even started reading herself. She was ready and confident to support her son’s reading habit during summer vacation.

Boy B’s mom still initiated reading like a mascot and just wanted everyone to enjoy the summer and only do things they thought were fun.

A Tale of Two Boys

Boy A

Boy A’s mom planned ahead and came up with ideas for books and topics her son might want to learn about and tons of ideas for reading spots and reading field trips. The librarian at the public library recommended books for her son and showed her how to access electronic books from her home computer, using the online library.

She and her son then talked about his summer routine before the school year ended and what/where/and how he wanted to read. Boy A’s mom then found a used Kindle and showed him how to navigate the online library to choose and take out books.

Over the summer, Boy A read for 30 minutes every day while eating his lunch after he came home from basketball camp and before he went to play soccer with his friends in the park. Some days he read even more because he loved reading books on his Kindle, chilling under a tree in his backyard with his dog. At night, he hung out with his neighbors and played video games before falling asleep.

He included his summer reading books in his daily 30-minute reading, and he did the required assignments (without being reminded) a week before school started. Because he had read the books, the assignments were fun and easy.

By the time September rolled around, Boy A accumulated about 30 hours of reading and read about 350,000 words. For the first time, he was excited to start school in September.

Boy B

Boy B’s mom felt summer was a vacation from school and time to relax. The minute Boy B walked in the door on the last day of school, he threw his backpack in the closet and forgot about it.

Every day after basketball camp, he skipped eating lunch and went straight to the park and played soccer with his friends. At night, he hung out with his neighbors and played his video games.

Right before school started, his friend (Boy A) reminded him of the summer reading books and the assignments that were due on the first day of school. Boy B borrowed Boy A’s books and found his backpack with the assignment in the closet. He skimmed the books, threw together something to hand into the teacher, crossed his fingers, and hoped she wouldn’t look at the assignment too closely.

By the time school started, Boy B had accumulated about 1-2 hours of reading and read less than 1,000 words. Just like all the summers beforehand, he kept getting a stomach ache whenever he thought about starting the next grade.

The difference between Boy A and Boy B boiled down to two things:

  1. How their moms initiated summer reading with them
  2. How they prioritized and balanced reading in their day

Research has found that kids who had easy access to books over the summer read more, and by reading a minimum of four or five books during that time, they prevented a decline in reading achievement scores from the spring to the fall.[ii]

Another study concluded that the one summer activity that is consistently related to academic gains is reading. Not vacation trips and participation in organized activities like sports or camp, but frequently reading books or regularly visiting the library.[iii]

That’s what happened to Boy A. Because he read for pleasure 30 minutes a day throughout June, July, and August, he started seventh grade reading on a seventh-grade level and kept on growing.

When Boy B started seventh grade in September, it took him time to acclimate to school, and he continued to miss opportunities to build his vocabulary and strengthen his reading-cognitive skills.

By the time Boy B got himself together and focused in school around November, Boy A had read well over 90 hours since the end of 6th grade compared to Boy B’s 30 hours (no reading over the summer plus his mandatory school reading minus zero pleasure reading).

Boy A and Boy B are real boys that I taught for 6th, 7th, and 8th- grade literacy. Even when Boy B finally started to read for pleasure 30 minutes a day in the middle of 7th grade, he never caught up to Boy A, but he did change his life’s trajectory for the positive.

Think about Your Son Right Now

His frequency of reading and the number of words he reads matters and can’t be optional. That’s why it’s important not to shrug off the reading habit, learn to initiate it like a coach and to appreciate what, where and how your son wants to read this summer.

If you want your son to become a reader and start the next school year ready to learn, then nothing beats summer to transform his reading habit with him. Not because of a grade on a summer reading assignment or because he’s being forced to read, but because reading for pleasure is fundamental to thrive academically and in life.

Here’s to boys reading!


To learn more about initiating the daily reading habit like a coach, check out Boys and Books: What You Need to Know and Do So Your 9- to 14-Year-Old Son Will Read.

[i] Alexander, Karl L., Doris R. Entwisle, and Linda Steffel Olson. “Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap.” American Sociological Review 72, no. 2 (2007): 167-80.

[ii]James Kim, “Summer Reading and the Ethnic Achievement Gap,” Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk [Internet] 9(2), (2004).

[iii]Barbara Heyns, “Summer Learning and the Effects of Schooling,” (New York: Academic Press, 1978).


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Susan Ujka’s Collection.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.