Assigned Summer Reading

It’s August.  Do You Know Where Your Kids’ Summer Reading Assignments Are?  

Summer gives kids a much enjoyed break – from school buses, long division, cafeteria lunches and organic chemistry.  But reading?  Not so much….  We’re all hip to that whole summer brain drain phenomenon.  Most parents are using “smart” camps, workbooks and outright bribery to get kids to put some time into using their heads for good instead of, well, nothing over the summer.


If kids stop processing information other than cartoons and computer games for weeks on end, they forget how to think on a higher level.  Reading is such a great, FUN way for kids to stay sharp.

According to Richard Arlington, Professor of Literacy at the University of Tennessee, kids who struggle with reading will lose up to two additional months of learning over the summer compared to kids who read at or above grade level.

Most area schools have summer reading programs to keep their students reading with intention over the summer months.  The programs vary by county, school and grade, but they all have the same goal:  encourage kids to read so they’ll enjoy it and choose to read independently.

We talked with several schools throughout the DC metro area – to teachers, principals, administrators, librarians, and even some reading experts for good measure.  We wanted to find out what your kids are reading this summer, and what the programs are all about.  

Without exception, everyone we contacted is passionate about getting kids to read at least one book over the summer.  How they inspire them is a bit varied and specific to the school populations.  Appropriately so, given how differently our kids respond to suggestion, requirements, incentives and choice.

The school programs take four overall approaches:

1. Suggested Reading Lists:

We love these.  Just about every public school district in the area has suggested books by age/grade level.  Some kids just have to pick a book (or a few) from these lists, and that’s their done deal for summer reading.  We recommend checking out the lists for reference all year long – you can work your way through the lists as your kids’ reading levels advance.  We’ve put links to some of the districts’ lists on our website for your reference, HERE!

2. Activities:

Many schools have kids fill out reading logs to track the books and/or minutes they’ve read.  Some reading logs include follow up activities for kids – from writing the age old  book report to drawing pictures of characters to reflections on themes.  

The more kids interact with the books, the better they build their skills.  And the best interaction?  Parents.  Talking to kids about their reading and reading aloud to younger kids and along with older kids produces the biggest net improvement in kids’ skills.

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) is going the extra mile this year to be sure their families are all-in with summer reading.  Under their strategic plan, A Capital Commitment, DCPS is focused, among five top goals, on 40 underperforming schools in the district.  Their goals are wide and ambitious, and this year, the emphasis is on literacy.  Their summer reading program is a good example of how the extra mile is the rule rather than the exception for DC public school kids.

Every DCPS K – 5th grader in the targeted schools received five books at the end of the school year.  In some schools, the staff actually hand delivered the books to the students at their homes.  They were making that all important connection with the parents and ended up overwhelmed with how excited and grateful the students and families were when they received these books.

According to Jennifer Jump, Director of Elementary Literacy, “We are passionate about students touching books and having them around.  These five books give kids a different motivation to get out and get more books.”  The DC Public Library is actively partnering with DCPS to be sure families have continued access to books all year round.

A study done in 2010 across 27 countries found that having 500 books in the home boosted a child’s education level by 3.2 years over homes with fewer than 20 books.

3. Incentives:

Some reading programs involve prizes and paybacks. James Kim, Harvard Professor and Fairfax County Public School alum, is a big believer in incentives.  “Details matter.  It’s important to first figure out what motivates kids to read. Some kids need extrinsic rewards; some kids don’t.” As a kid, Dr. Kim chose his bike over reading – until his teacher offered him “prizes” for reading.

Newton Lee Elementary in Loudoun County has a cute program for its kids this summer – “Flip over reading, Flop down with a book.” They have a goal of 1000 pages per child – and if the students hit that number, they get to wear flip flops (yes, that’s a huge treat for the elementary set) and go to a Beach Party the first week of school.

4. One Book:

Fairfax County is flexible in HOW their schools encourage kids to read, but the School Board wasn’t shy about issuing a mandate that all schools require rising 6-12 graders read at least one book over the summer.  

Many of the junior and high schools focus on a theme and have a single title or a few books that relate to the theme.  Having common texts and subject matter creates a community experience for the kids – and in many cases – staff.  

Rachel Carson Middle School in Fairfax has committed to their theme each year in a big way.  Every staff member is expected to read the book along with the kids, they have staff t-shirts printed with the theme, and the teachers incorporate the book and/or theme into classroom work. Not just English class – the science and math teachers are just as deep into the topic.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is on task for reading as you’d expect the tech types to be.  They mix it up for their students to keep them on their toes. Last year, they had a single school wide book, Drive, by Daniel H. Pink.  The follow up included a visit by the author.  

This year, TJ gets down to business with summer reading designated by the classes kids will take next year.  If you’ve signed up for Oceanography, you get your choice of “down by the sea” books, and the AP Comp Sci types get to read their selections online.

For our suggested reading lists, click here!

About WF Staff

Washington FAMILY Staff

Leave a Reply

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