Summer Literacy Strategies: Middle School

-9 tips and tools to keep your middle school student engaged in learning all summer long -

Every middle school student counts down the days until summer vacation: freedom from school, unlimited time with friends, and three whole months to participate in the activities they love. But — aside from nervous parents who can’t believe their babies are going to boy-girl parties — middle schoolers face a major obstacle over vacation: the summer slide. According to research, students can lose up to two months worth of curriculum content over the summer, and teachers spend weeks trying to review concepts from the previous grade level. Literacy is a particular problem: without being actively engaged in reading, kid’s vocabulary, fluency, and writing skills can take a serious decline during the summer months. So how do we get middle school kids, who really just want to hang outside with their friends, to maintain and even build on literacy skills throughout vacation? Since many kids are away from their teachers all summer, this task is left mostly up to parents, which might seem a little daunting. But, it’s actually easier than it sounds: building literacy skills can be an exciting, imaginative, and entertaining process- it just has to be individualized and interactive. Here are some of our favorite ideas, tips, and activities to getting middle-school kids excited about learning all summer long.

1. Encourage your child to enroll in your local library’s summer reading program

No matter what they might say, no teen is too cool to participate in a library’s summer reading incentive! Almost all libraries have them, and some even have programs specific to teens with awesome prizes, like Young Adult book giveaways and trendy bookmarks. If your teen is already pretty into reading and you want to foster that love, keep an eye out for visiting authors and conventions: YA lit is exploding right now, and the authors in that industry tend to be really down-to-earth, interactive people.

2. Find a reading list that corresponds with your child’s age or interests

Many parents of elementary school children know to get their kids interested in reading by picking interest-specific books (like dinosaurs, rocks, or dump trucks) but the same holds true for middle school kids. Find out what your teen is passionate about — maybe it’s a sport, a genre of music, or they really love magic — and scour the internet for summer reading lists full of that topic. Parents, educators, and other teens have put together some really comprehensive lists, so take advantage of the resources!

3. Get them hooked on a great series

YA lit is the home of amazing trilogies and series, and getting hooked on a suspenseful, endearing series of books is what starts so many kids’ love of reading. Hand your teen the first book in a set and see what happens. Many of these have taken off on the silver screen as well, which is a great opportunity to incorporate your child’s social life into reading. Encourage them to start a book club with the series, and hold a movie night at your house (maybe outside on the projector?) to watch the film version when they’ve read the books. Be sure to discuss thematic, character, and medium-based differences.

4. Mix it up by practicing foreign language skills

Students often begin learning a foreign language in grades 6, 7, and 8. Many of them are excited to show off their new skills — be an audience for your multilinguist throughout the summer, and encourage them to build on their vocabulary. Play fun language games or even act as a student and let your child teach you a few phrases.

5. Recognize the ties between literature and music

At this age, many teens are extremely passionate about their favorite style of music. And while it might seem a little bit angsty to Mom and Dad, maybe your teen is really onto something: a lot of the same principles and creative aspects of poetry and literature are used in music, as well. So take advantage of your children’s current band obsession and encourage them to look closer at the lyrics of their favorite songs. Suggest that they write a blog about the meaning, or write a song of their own. Any writing practice is great for literacy building!

6. Suggest keeping a travel diary

If you know that your family will be traveling a great deal over the summer, suggest that your teen keep a travel diary or — more likely — a blog. Creative nonfiction is a really specific and powerful genre of writing that demands highly descriptive language and attention to detail. A travel blog will help your young writer develop skills and memorable content that might come in handy down the road, when it comes time to write college application essays.

7. Give your teen a private, cool reading space

This project is not for the faint-hearted parent — but if you’re feeling ambitious and a little handy, it will definitely pay off in the long run. We all know that most teens love privacy and time to be alone with their thoughts, so why not encourage that they bring book with them? Motivate your teens to read by giving them a peaceful and cool space, either in the basement, attic, their room, or outside, where they can enjoy a good book. Check out this (amazing!) example of a wooden summer reading nook from the Vintage Revivals blog.

8. Take advantage of fun educational apps

You know your teens are going to have their noses glued to their phone screens all summer anyway, so why not put some research-based, effective learning programs on their digital devices? We offer interactive and affordable educational apps — available for iPod and iPad — that will keep your teens learning all summer long. From foreign language, to vocab, to mathematics, there is an app for your student’s individual learning needs.

9. Read with your child

One of the best ways to connect with your teen is to read the same books that he or she might be reading. You can discuss characters and plot together, and make recommendations to one another. (Don’t worry — you can never be too much of a grown-up to enjoy a YA novel!) Reading with your child will set a powerful example of what it means to be a reader and a thinker, will open your eyes to some of the narratives and struggles relevant to today’s teen, and might help you discover something new about your child.

For more summer literacy boosting resources and information about the summer slide, visit: