School is almost out for summer here in East Penn! And if you’ve got kids in middle- or high-school, this is the time of year they’re coming home with reading assignments for the summer.
There’s lots to love about summer reading lists for school. Or so I thought. I used to count myself as a leading cheerleader for having required reading over the summer. But I’ve changed my tune over the last few years, and I want to share the reasons why with you.
1. Required reading lists take away from the relaxation of summer.
Summer is a time of family vacations, rest and relaxation, seasonal jobs, and other important things in students lives that are difficult to accomplish during the school year. And summer breaks are shorter today (9-10 weeks) than they were when many of us parents were in school. Assigned summer reading interferes with this time by keeping the shadow of homework over students throughout the summer. And any parent who’s had to nag and cajole their kids to finish their summer reading certainly knows a little something about how these assignments take away from summer enjoyment.
2. They crowd out the magic of discovering new books on one’s own.
Most of us like to choose our own meals when we go out to restaurants. We don’t want our spouse or even the chef to simply tell us what we’re going to eat that night. And the same principle applies to books. Part of the joy of reading is the thrill of finding a book for the first time in the library, or at the bookstore, or on a shelf at home, or laying out at a friend’s house. The fund of such a discovery is lost when the list of books you need to read is handed down to you from above. Plus, kids are less likely to be looking out for new books in the first place if, in the back of their minds, they know they have a mandatory list of things to read already.
3. They replace the love of reading with the responsibility of reading
There’s no greater buzzkill to the love of reading than telling a child they must read a particular book or list of books. I think we should be teaching our kids how to choose books they love to read. And my experience in East Penn is that we have fantastic librarians that do a great job of just that. But assigned summer reading substitutes what kids want to read with what books are ‘good for them.’ This is frankly fine during the school year; I learned to appreciate different books from teachers who required me to tackle things I wouldn’t have chosen on my own. But summer vacation is not the time to do this. It leaves students with the sense that reading is a responsibility rather than a source of enjoyment and relaxation– not a formula, in my view, for nurturing lifelong readers.
4. They teach kids that many school assignments are just busy work.
I’ll be honest, this is actually the first observation that led me to question my prior support for summer school reading. And I suspect I’ll be stepping on some toes in saying this publicly. Class descriptions and formal school board presentations make summer reading assignments out to be well-crafted and important parts of the school curriculum. As a parent of two students in the district, I’m sad to say this has not been my experience. Both my kids have had assigned summer reading that was hardly mentioned at all once they returned to school, or integrated only through a short quiz, or discussed in class for only a few minutes, or discussed weeks and even months after school has started and memories of the book have faded. This experience has held true across different schools, different classes, and different teachers in East Penn (with only a single notable exception). Many of my previous concerns with summer reading assignments would be lessened if these books were central, well-integrated elements of classes in the fall, addressed in depth and over an extended period. But by and large they’re not. And in making assignments for summer reading that– in the end– don’t really matter, we’re teaching all the wrong lessons to our kids about what school assignments are for in the first place.
I love to read and think reading is an important skill for being a citizen of the modern world. I want to instill both this love and sense of responsibility for reading in my children. But I’m no longer convinced school-assigned summer reading is the best way to accomplish either of these things. What do you think?