A Catholic Family Summer, Part I: Nurturing a Love for Reading

Enjoy Part I of our three-part summer blog series, dedicated to curated suggestions for making the most out of the months of break. Cover artwork: “Saint Jerome in His Study” by Antonello da Messina (1475).

“Read often, learn all that you can. Let sleep overcome you, the roll still in your hands; when your head falls, let it be on the sacred page.”

– Saint Jerome, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 6, Letter 22

The arrival of summer often brings a lengthy wishlist of growth-focused projects and goals to be accomplished – for ourselves and our children. The pressure of having a “productive” summer can often become daunting. In this three-part blog series, we aim to ease the burden and share joyful, simple ways to nourish the minds and hearts of our children and ourselves during the summer months.

As educators in a classical Catholic school, we believe that few activities bear as much fruit and provide as much growth as developing a lifelong love for reading. Therefore, Part I of this series focuses on ways to foster that love over the summer months. Curated by our Holy Spirit Prep faculty, we hope the following tips will help you nurture a love for reading in children of all ages.

Tips for Beginning Readers

1. Visit your local library.

Go to the library and help them get their own library card. As much as you can, help them lead the way, giving them the tools they need to take initiative in reading. Consider going to the children’s section and having them select 2-3 books they would like to read together (try to direct them towards books that contain beautiful pictures with lessons on virtue and learning good from bad). Libraries typically have several summer programs and reading logs to encourage students to read books over the summer, as well!

“The Reading Girl” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1895)

2. Choose good, classical books for kids.

The types of books we read are like the diet we eat. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light,” says Our Lord. Reading good, classical literature is like giving your child the meat, fruit, and vegetables of a healthy and balanced diet. There is a place in any diet for dessert—in terms of books, these are the lighter, sillier genres—but it certainly cannot be the staple of the diet. Your child may think they can subsist on candy, but just like their palate must be formed to enjoy fine and healthy foods, their soul and imagination must be formed to enjoy the depth of riches of classical literature. It is important that our children be discouraged from pursuing what is ugly in books that praise or glorify disorder, doubt, or disobedience.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light” – Matthew 6:22

3. Plan outings similar to the book setting.

Once your child has read a book (or in some cases, has read it many times), see if you’re able to go to a location similar to that described in the book in order to read and experience the book in that place. For example, if you read The Little Red Hen, you could visit a real farm so that your children can see the chickens, pigs, ducks, and other animals. Have your child explore that place and see the book come to life! Another example of this would be reading Eric Carle’s Mister Seahorse and then visiting The Georgia Aquarium, finding the seahorses, and seeing their habitat. You could even have a family scavenger hunt to find the other animals described in the book around the aquarium!

4. Record your voices reading.

Children also love to record their voices while reading a favorite story and then play it back. Some classes like to read with different emphasis, sometimes dramatically, and perhaps even with a different accent.  This is both a fun exercise, but also a great way for them to learn to improve their skills in reading out loud.

5. “If I were the author…”

As the child reads their books this summer, ask them what they would do if they were the author. Ask them if they would have written it any differently, and how.

6. Consider favorite movies.

Have your child read the book on which a favorite movie is based.  Of course, they may come to realize how much better the book usually is than the movie, but what better way to enkindle a love of reading. Matilda has been a big hit with children, and some are delighted to know it is based on a book. Others include “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” (and Chronicles of Narnia Series), “Charlotte’s Web”, and “Pinnochio”.

7. Kids Magnificat.

Another great resource for reading is the MagnifiKid. It has wonderful stories based on the Scripture readings for the week, and encourages children to follow along at Mass by following along in their books. It also has a section for “hard words” and helps broaden their vocabulary based on readings for the week.

Tips for Intermediate Readers

1. Read aloud with your children.

Reading with your children is a great way to foster an authentic love for literature and to grow closer together as a family. Intermediate readers often enjoy reading aloud, and parents can help guide their reading by asking questions and discussing books with their children.

Older students reading aloud to younger students

2. Create a designated reading nook.

Designate a special space in your home for reading, such as a cozy corner or a quiet room. Furnish this area with comfortable seating, like a plush armchair or floor cushions, and ensure sufficient lighting for reading in the evenings. Most importantly, set up a bookshelf or display case filled with a diverse selection of age-appropriate books, including fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Encourage your child to personalize this space with their favorite books, artwork, or stuffed animals to make it an inviting and enjoyable place for them to spend time reading independently or together with you.

3. Be a role model.

Children should see their parents reading!  Reading quality literature with children is so rewarding for the mind and soul of both parent and child.  You might consider not only modeling and encouraging them to read, but going to a bookstore or library for them to pick out something to read.  Since intermediate readers differ greatly in what they like to read, give them a choice of edifying and good selections, including at least one title of classic literature.  Children might not know some of the wonderful books that are out there, and that is where you can come in!

4. Consider books on tape.

Introduce your children to the world of Audiobooks during car rides or while they do activities around the house. Audiobooks offer a fantastic opportunity for learning and entertainment without the need for screens. With a wide selection of age-appropriate content available on various platforms (such as Audible), you can easily find titles that captivate your child’s imagination and have them looking forward to the next car ride when they can pick the story up again.

Tips for Advanced Readers

Student reading in the campus library

1. Older siblings read to younger ones.

Encourage your older children to read to their younger siblings. Modeling the love of reading to younger siblings will grow and reinforce that love of reading in the older student. For students who struggle with reading fluency or pronunciation, this will also give them practice reading books at a more attainable level which can increase their competence and confidence in reading out loud. Because they are reading to their younger siblings, practicing on a lower-level book will seem noble rather than defeating.

2. Consider biographies.

For students reluctant to read, a biography of a person the family admires or is interested in is often a gateway to other types of books. Familiarity with and interest in the subject makes these books more accessible.

3. Read and discuss with friends and family.

Make it a book club!  Set aside time with those you are reading with and discuss what has stood out to you.  Pick characters to defend or make predictions about what you think will happen next in the novel.  As the story progresses, this will keep a liveliness and actually result in pulling deeper themes from the story.

Resources: A great resource for parents is On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior.

If you are looking for classical book suggestions for younger children, peruse our curated list here: Reading recommendations for Kindergarten through 6th grade.

For additional book recommendations, we invite you to read John Senior’s The 1000 Good Books.

The gift of reading is not merely an academic pursuit, but a lifelong companion that all of us should cultivate to keep our minds and imaginations constantly growing and challenged.  Reading is a wonderful tool; applied to reading great works and good books can do so much to help us grow in the intellectual and virtuous life!

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