Forming a Backyard Reading Club can minimize the long hot days of summer and offer a natural way for kids to practice reading. A great way to get kids reading in a natural and fun way is to form a Backyard Reading Club. Get together with a few friends and neighbors and pick a day. It works best to invite children about the same age or grade for a group although you might want to split up groups with a friend or neighbor. Depending on the ages of the kids, decide on the amount of time and stick to it. Toddlers might fizzle out after half hour. Kids in K-2 can probably do an hour, and older kids will depend on the kids. Decide on once a week or more. Make a definite date right from the start and mark it on your calendar. Plan vacations and family activities around your club. This shows kids that reading is important.
Check reading levels of books using the Lexile chart to the right. You might know the Lexile level of your child based on school assessments. For a group of varied readers, choose one in the middle because you don’t want your poorer readers being embarrassed or frustrated and you don’t want you higher readers to be bored.
Don’t expect kids of any age to just sit and read for the whole time. I suggest you break it up to enhance their motivation and, what I call, “learning in disguise.” I will give some book suggestions and include a Read-aloud Guide for ideas. Please choose books that suit you and your children. Public librarians are in full swing for the summer and will also have some great age-appropriate books both as read-alouds, Don’t underestimate the value of Joke Books. There is a lot of hidden meaning in “getting” a joke. If your kids really don’t want to read a chapter book, let them read jokes and magazines too. Also, age-appropriate biographies and stories about cooking or baking might be fun. Think of the activities you can do!
Here is a Read-aloud Guide
Find a picture book that is colorful with bright illustrations and an easy text. Perhaps a rhyming book that the children can join you in repeating. You will be reading this book to the kids.
Now, here’s the trick! Read, stop and talk during the reading, and find parts you want the kids to chime in with you. After reading and talking, plan an activity that coordinates with the book. Go in the pool, play in a sandbox, decorate premade cookies, play with Play-Dough. Blow bubbles. If you want, you can supply a simple snack and drink. Toddler groups should include a parent for each child. Sit in a circle and let the parents join in the fun. Before doing your activity, you could have a stack of board books for kids to touch and look at themselves for a few minutes to promote the joy of books.
Here is a Read-aloud Guide with suggested activities MINGO Guide
Here is another Read-aloud Guide.
Kids who go to school are comfortable siting quietly to listen to a story. Children should be accompanied by a parent because this is a fun book club and not your offer to babysit for an hour. Parents should take turns hosting the club. This group should also include a read-aloud picture book story that you choose. Read, stop and talk, point out interesting or confusing parts or words, ask questions. Let the kids join in parts that repeat a phrase. Help the kids find hidden meaning. After reading to them, you can also have a stack of picture books for them to browse through or try to read on their own with their parent. I want to stress here that reading stories aloud to children is your way to model how good readers think. It teaches a valuable “lessons in disguise” to your children. It also helps them develop good listening skills. After reading, plan a snack and drink. Do a craft or activity that is related to the story you read.
This age group can probably read fairly well on their own. You will have to decide with the other parents what book is a good (not too hard) reading level and interest for the children involved in the group. My Read-aloud Guide (on the right sidebar) lists 50 picture book stories to read aloud to kids in this age group along with activities and questions to ask while reading. You can do a read-aloud as above if you like. But kids this age probably want to read a bit on their own. So read a chapter to them each week in the way describe above. Then ask the kids to read the next chapter on their own. Have a craft or activity ready – especially for those who read faster than the others. Do NOT make this a school activity with worksheets. If it’s like school, you might turn them off to the club. Instead, choose something to create or build. Do some cooking. Plant a garden. Decorate flower pots. Read about artists and draw or paint pictures. While kids this old can probably be left with you on their own, why not ask the parents to stay. It gives you an hour or so to work together with your friends and neighbors.
With the other parents involved, you might want to take the kids on a Field Trip as an extension of the story theme – a museum, the beach, a Nature reserve, the local harbor, a local zoo, an ice cream shop. Make it fun but set your time ahead. Perhaps, 45 minutes for reading and the activity and an hour for the trip. You decide ahead of time with the other parents. By sticking to a schedule, you and the other parents know how to schedule the summer days for family and other activities. If older kids go to camp, have a Supper Club or meet in the early evening.
Want to be really daring? Find books about Nature and Camping. Have your club meetings in a pop-up tent in the backyard lit with camp lanterns. Let the kids read with flashlights. Have them each bring a pillow for comfy reading. What other ideas can you think of?
Middle School and Above
This age group is tricky as you already know. Our school district did The Hunger Games for the entire Middle School, did activities, related writing, and a Field Trip. You decide with the other parents. You can still read a chapter aloud and then have the kids read the next one with a partner or alone. Do the same with activities or day trips and, of course, kids love snacks.
Do you have a mix of kids in your neighborhood or circle of friends? Ask the older ones to pair up with the younger ones and read to them and share in the activities.
We Reading Specialists as well as librarians and teachers always tell kids to read over the summer. Public libraries and some local colleges offer wonderful summer reading programs. But if you host a Backyard Book Club, you show your kids how much fun reading can be done at home. I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. Contact me any time to ask questions and tell me about your Backyard Book Club success. I’d love to see pictures of your reading nooks, caves, and corners. “Happy Reading!”