Why Summer Reading Matters

The school year is winding down, and everyone feels a sense of accomplishment as they close their books for the last time. Biology is done! History is over! No math until autumn! It’s time to swap pencils for pool noodles and online classes for family road trips.

Summer is here so it’s time to relax…with a good book.

“Wait!” you cry. “I just found the last novel under a pile of Junior’s dirty socks and squeezed it onto the bookshelf. It’s staying there until little Josephine needs it one day. We need a break from books.”

Of course, we all need a change of pace from time to time. That’s one of the great joys of summer. So take a few days to unwind, but then consider all the reasons that summer reading matters.


The beauty of summer reading is the freedom of choice. Pleasure reading means you choose the books that appeal to you and ditch them if you change your mind. Wander the stacks at your local library or browse through your Kindle and open any book that piques your interest.

Research shows that summer reading spurs student achievement. And the best part is you don’t have to wade through Tolstoy’s War and Peace to sharpen your mind or expand your social consciousness. As long as you enjoy what you’re reading, you reap the benefits.

Academic Benefits

“What kind of benefits?” you wonder. Well, you won’t be surprised to learn that reading outside of school brings rewards during the academic year, but you may not realize just how significant they are.

A report out of New Zealand found that students who enjoyed reading scored higher in math, reading, and problem solving. But the improvement goes beyond what a standardized test can measure.

Pleasure reading creates deep reservoirs of imagination and creativity that allow students to soar beyond basic educational goals. British author Neil Gaiman makes an excellent case that fiction reading in particular provides the fodder for literacy. After being lost in a fantasy world, we find ourselves better equipped to meet the challenges in our world. (Gaiman also makes a lovely case for honoring libraries as depositories of all good things.)

And if you want more ideas for developing independent readers, try these two simple steps.

Emotional/Health Benefits

You probably knew reading was good for students, but did you also know the advantages extend beyond grades? The same NZ report also showed that students who kept reading when requirements ended demonstrated above average scores for school engagement, close family ties, and strong friendships.

In addition, reading fiction has been shown to increase empathy, allowing for greater compassion and understanding between peers. Plus, researchers from the University of Sussex have learned that reading reduces stress , making it the perfect summer activity for kids and parents.

summer reading benefits everyone
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Together or Alone

If academics and extracurriculars have scattered your crew all year long, you may be ready for some memorable family time. Choosing a read aloud everyone will enjoy is easier than you think. You can ask your park day friends which tales they’ve adored, check with your local library for summer reading lists, or go online for great ideas from Simple Homeschool and Read-Aloud Revival.

Or maybe you’ve been a little too close since September and everyone needs some space. Let each family member read his or her pick by the pool and share the best parts during a weekly summer barbecue. It doesn’t matter how you go about it, as long as you do it.

When you read for pleasure, whether it’s immersive, intellectual, social, or work-related pleasure, you are building the foundation for academic and social success in school and in life.

Now, that’s not a bad way to spend the summer. 

Want Independent Readers? Use Habits and the 5-Finger Rule

The modern world is increasingly visual. (IKEA assembly directions, I’m looking at you.) Nevertheless, reading remains a fundamental part of education, work, and culture, and it’s essential for our students to become independent readers.

If you have little ones, you probably know that reading is one of the best ways to build vocabulary. In fact, research suggests a daily read-aloud habit gives some kindergartners a million word advantage over kids who were never read to at home. And reading as an adult continues to provide benefits, from tension relief and improved focus to better sleep and brighter days.

So how students do reach that lofty goal? Here are two easy steps to put into practice.

Make Daily Reading a Habit

When I taught in public school, every teacher my department participated in what we called Outside Reading. Students read books of their own choosing and discussed them in one-on-one conversations with their teacher.

We let students gorge on one author or genre if they wished. They could stop reading a book if it was too boring. And to help students reach the goal of 100 pages per week to earn an “A” in Outside Reading, we spent dedicated time to silent reading in each period.

Pages turned. Plots thickened. Peace reigned. It was pure bliss.

That bliss is available to homeschool parents, too. When silent reading is part of the schedule, benefits abound, and “fifteen minutes a day will bring better results than half an hour once a week or so,” according to the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation.

So tell everyone to grab a book, find a comfy spot, and travel to “lands away.” Not only will there be some lovely quiet time, there will also be fodder for great lunchtime conversations.

5-finger rule for independent readers
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Follow the 5-Finger Rule

Parents probably wonder if the cascade of benefits will fall out of just any old book?

The answer is, “Pretty much.”

The goal for independent readers is fluency, which leads to increased comprehension. And, fortunately, when students enjoy what they’re reading, it puts them on the fast track to fluency. (More ways to reach fluency here.)

Of course, positive results will increase with carefully chosen books. If students only read books below their proficiency level, they’re less likely to get all the vocabulary and horizon broadening benefits that come from reading. If students only read books above their proficiency level, they’re more likely to be confused, frustrated, and unhappy.

The sweet spot seems to be a book where each page has 3-5 unfamiliar words whose meaning can be determined through context. A well-written sentence (and an understanding of the book’s plot) can help students figure out what new words mean without having to search the dictionary.

In fact, I prefer that my students learn new words in context rather than from isolated lists. Without context, students miss the nuances inherent in English usage. Context prevents students from misusing prepositions and choosing improper adjectives in their writing.

So pull an interesting book off the shelf and have your student start reading. For each unfamiliar word, lift one finger. If you’ve lifted five fingers by the end of the page, it’s likely that the book will provide an appropriate challenge while still being an enjoyable read. If you’ve lifted more than five fingers, save it for another day because it will likely be too confusing. And if you’ve only lifted one or two fingers, it’s fine to read but less likely to improve vocabulary.

You Can’t Go Wrong

You can start a daily habit at any time. Morning. Evening. Fall. Winter. Spring. Summer. (For great reasons to read this summer, start here.)

The beauty of reading is that you can’t go wrong. Pick a book. Set a time. Reap the rewards.