Dear Miriam | Stressed About Summer Reading

Closeup of letters on writing desk at home

Dear Miriam,

My kids’ summer homework says to read for 20 minutes every day. There’s no practical way to make sure this happens given the pace of what the summer looks like in our family. Does it “count” if I read to them instead? I realize I could ask their teachers, but given that we haven’t met them yet, I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot by being “that parent” before the school year even starts.


Stressed out in July


Dear Stressed,

Reading should be fun. Reading can be a glorious independent activity for kids who are into that, or a fantastic bonding experience for families that enjoy their books together. Reading can happen aloud or quiet, cozy in bed or stretched out by the pool, in the morning or at night. Routines are great for reading, but novelty can work, too. Rather than deciding that 20 minutes a day is unrealistic for your family, you can redefine what that success could look like, and your question about reading aloud is a great first step on the way.

Rather than setting up reading for your kids as a “have to,” try to reframe it as a “get to.” In the summer, you get to sleep in, you get to go to the ice cream truck, you get to read whatever you want whenever you want. It’s freedom! It’s exploration! Don’t tie it back to a school assignment or to your own sense of worry about the fall. Free time to read is a gift, and your attitude will go far in helping your kids see it that way.

If you’re traveling somewhere as a family or recently watched a beloved movie together or are discovering an interest in bugs or stars or climate change or Pokemon, find books that are connected to your summer adventures. If you’re not sure where to start, go to your public library and ask for help. If possible, let your kids browse, and bring home whatever they find that strikes their interest. You could actually contact your children’s teachers to say, “I’m sorry to bother you over the summer, but do you have any lists of books to recommend?” I’m sure they do, and I promise that, phrased that way, you are not “that parent.” 

Finally, to get to your actual question, reading aloud absolutely counts, and I encourage you to read to your children, of any age, any chance you get. Maybe you can read to them in the car to help pass the time on road trips, or even for five minutes before bed. Also and on top of that, reading independently builds and maintains important skills that they’ll need in the fall and, you know, forever. 

Maybe for every page you read, your kids can each read a paragraph, or maybe one night you read to them, and the next night, they read to you. Twenty minutes is aspirational, and the teachers know that not every child will do this every day. Anything you can do to incorporate books into your summer plans will achieve the teachers’ goals and, more importantly, will make reading and learning integrated into your family’s summer, however hectic it may be.

 Be well,



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