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As a literacy coach, it sometimes pains me that books are not always my kids go-to activity. They are much more likely to pick up their technology, their art supplies, or the toad that lives in the backyard when they want to unwind.

While these can all be great ways to spend time and can even be great for your brain, they cannot replace having a rich reading life.

I have such great memories of getting lost in books for days as a kid and I want this for them, too. There are so many other reasons beyond just wanting to recreate my childhood joy with them. I know now what I didn’t know then: that reading is one of the things that has the biggest impact on our kids academically. 

The Research Journal of the American Association of School Librarians has found that, “The amount of free reading done outside of school has consistently been found to relate to growth in vocabulary, reading comprehension, verbal fluency, and general information. Students who read independently become better readers, score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas, and have greater content knowledge than those who do not.”

These are things which, of course, I care about, but most importantly, reading opens up new worlds and ways of thinking to them while they sit on the couch. Amazing stuff.

Most of the research around reading points us in a direction that makes it easy for us as parents to help kids. According to the American Library Association, it’s actually ridiculously simple. Kids become better readers by reading. A lot. They should choose the books they read and those books should be ones that they can easily read in a week or two all on their own. Kids should have a chance to talk about what they are reading, ask questions and share their thinking. Done and done.

Using these basics and keeping all the extra teacher stuff that crowds my brain out of the equation (I am sometimes tempted to do comprehension checks and reading conferences, but this is reading for pleasure so that might get in the way of their fun), I set up our summer reading kick off. My goal: to keep it simple and something that would run itself once we got started. Here it is:

1 | Let kids know why it is important for them to read. 

I let my kids in on the fact that reading more books will help them. According to Kylene Beers, one of my favorite reading experts, kids who read 10-15 books in the summer gain as much academically as those who attend a summer school program to help their reading achievement.

The opposite of this is a little scary. Kids who don’t read in the summer lose two to three months of reading achievement. We talk about how all their hard work in the last quarter of school doesn’t even count if they don’t read over the summer. And who wants that? I have found unequivocally in my work with students that they love to be told WHY we are having them do something. Remember when your little ones couldn’t stop asking, “Why?” They still think it when they are big (if we are lucky). Once I have them motivated it is pretty easy to make reading goals.

2 | Get them thinking about what they want to read. 

The first rule here is that kids are in charge of choosing what they will read.  There will be books read about Five Nights at Freddy’s, Minecraft, snakes, fishing….nothing is off limits. Just because I wouldn’t pick it doesn’t mean my kid can’t enjoy it. So high five to our friend Captain Underpants and a summer of the classics turned into graphic novels. Let them choose and they might surprise themselves by loving it.

At the same time, kids might not know what’s out there for them to choose from. I share stories with them about books I love. I put these books in their hands after “selling” them on these. I bring them to the library to hear book talks, find lists online of great reads, do whatever I can to hype-up different titles so they can’t wait to read them. 

Help your kids voice their interests, then help them find some nonfiction or other texts that align with these. If you are excited about books or about finding new things to read, they will be too.

3 | Kids and parents make reading goals. 

Start by making a list of books you want to read or reread. We simply counted the weeks in the summer and then chose a title we wanted to read that week. For us, this meant hitting the internet and friends for recommendations. The goal is ONE BOOK A WEEK. Choosing a longer text (over 200 pages) might cover two weeks. If it’s going to take all summer to read one book, that book might be a little above the level you want to tackle for this particular challenge.

Getting the audiobook version of these longer books and encouraging kids to listen over the course of a week is a great alternative. We want kids to be able to read books that they want to read. If kids are putting time in reading and it is still taking longer than two weeks, help them adjust their book choice.

Younger kids who are not yet reading chapter books might choose a book a day. For example, my eight-year-old is enjoying simple chapter books right now, but can read one in just a few days, so she is trying for two books a week.

4 | Display and track your goals.

This might be a simple paper chart, a sticker chart, or using a site like Goodreads to make a group and track your reading. A visible reminder of goals is essential so you can track progress and regroup. And you may have to regroup.

Again, your kids might need to adjust the length or level of books they’re choosing, or they might find they reader faster or slower than they thought. Make the challenge one that each kid can attain, even if you have to change up the goal part of the way through.

5 | Talk about what you’re reading. 

Reading is a great social activity. Those of us who love to read know the power of finding someone else that has read a book that we love. It’s so fun to be able to share what we thought about the book. Just like if we run into someone who knows a friend of ours. Books can be our friends and we should talk about them! Ask your kids things like:

  • What is happening so far?
  • Who are the characters?
  • Do you have a favorite part?
  • Does the book make sense?
  • Are there any funny parts?

Chat about your books in the car, after they read, around the dinner table, whenever you can. This doesn’t have to be formal, but it will help you help your kids find books they like and will keep everyone engaged. A family read aloud is also an awesome way to get more reading in and will help you bond over books. For more ideas about reading aloud to your kids, check out this post.

6 | Make reading its own reward. 

In my experience, when kids read for a prize and the prize is attained, they stop reading unless there is another prize. They have learned to read for the prize instead of reading for the joy. Alfie Kohn has written extensively about this in the field of education. I’ve seen it in action and believe so much in what he says about rewards: “Rewards don’t bring about the changes we are hoping for, but the point here is also that something else is going on: the more rewards are used, the more they seem to be needed. Pretty soon, the provision of rewards becomes habitual because there seems to be no way to do without them.”

This is so true with kids and reading. My goal is for them to love it so they will continue to read because of that love, not because they’re getting something or because they want to please me. Our fun will come from talking about our books and from finding things we love. If all goes well, I’ll surprise them at the end with a coffee at Barnes and Noble and we’ll all buy ourselves the first book of the school year. This will be a celebration, not something they’ve earned or worked for. Just a time to chat about how much fun we had with our books (fingers crossed).

That’s it. Make goals, make a plan to reach them, and track your progress. If you have trouble fitting reading into your summer craziness, dedicate a half hour or two 15-minute periods a day to read. Make sure kids bring books with them to practices, the pool, wherever you are headed. In my family, if we all just read in the car they will read hours everyday, no joke!

We are just off and running with the challenge here and hopefully we’ll read more this summer than ever before. I believe that just trying to be more intentional by keeping reading on the radar will make us more successful in the end. Would you like to join us? Leave a comment letting us know you’re in!

Some things to help get you started:

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I had big plans to be a "good mom" this summer. There were going to be chore charts, reading goals, daily letter writing practice, and cursive classes. There would be no screen time until the beds were made, and planned activities for each day of the week.

Today was the first day of summer vacation and our scheduled beach day. But here's what we did instead: Lounged in our pj's until 11 am, baked the girl's pick, chocolate chip cookie brownies, started an art project we never finished, then moved to the pool.

It's so easy to be pressured by things we see on social. Ways to challenge our kids and enrich their summer. But let's be real—we're all tired. Tired of chores, tired of schedules and places to be, tired of pressure, and tired of unrealistic expectations.

So instead of a schedule, we're doing nothing this summer. Literally NOTHING.

No camps. No classes, and no curriculums.

Instead, we're going to see where each day takes us. I've dubbed this the "Summer of Me," so workouts and clean eating are a priority for me. And also giving our girls the freedom to pick what they want to do.

We may go to a local pool and check out the swimming programs. And we join the local YMCA. But whatever we do—it will be low key.

It will include family time, too much TV, a few trips, lots of sunshine, some new roller skates, water balloons, plenty of boredom, rest, relaxation, and reading. (Because mama likes to read!)

So if you haven't figured out what you're doing this summer, you're not alone. And guess what? It's OKAY! Your kids will be fine and so will you.

Originally posted on Kristen Hewitt's blog. Check out her post on 30 ways to have fun doing almost nothing this summer.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.



PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

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