Every kid (well, except maybe Harry Potter) longs for the carefree days of summer. With no homework, and long, carefree days, what's not to love? But you've probably heard teachers tell your kids as they leave on their last day, "Don't forget to read this summer!"
As I was thinking about this topic, I turned to a great teacher that I actually had at home all summer - my mom! She explained the reason why teachers put such an emphasis on summer reading is that like any other skill, reading requires practice, and when children don't read while school is out, they can quickly get rusty. The short few months can quickly turn into a summer slump, and as an elementary school teacher, she saw firsthand how this hurt her students.
In her work with PBS, literacy expert Dr. Julie Wood summed up what my mom saw with her own students, that the compounded loss in reading comprehension skills over the summer months can amount to losing two years of achievement by the time a child reaches middle school!1
So getting your child to read is important, but what if it isn't exactly their favorite thing to do? Or maybe they're a young reader, and you'd like something other than another picture book?
This is where playing games gives your kids a unique opportunity to engage with reading in a fun and creative way.
Board games are filled with reading! Sure there are plenty of great games that are focused on vocabulary and spelling, but I'm not only referring to those. Games with all kinds of themes can incorporate reading, even when that isn't the main mechanic of the game.
For starters, every game comes with a set of rules to read, and as mom explains it, any reading counts! But that's not all - many different types of games will often have additional information for game play on cards, like a short background about a character, or information about what ability this particular card gives your player. All of these add opportunities for reading throughout gameplay. What's even better, because they are using this information as they play, your kids will be working on their reading comprehension while they're playing! Sneaky, isn't it?
Games with a theme based on popular literature can also be a great way to get a child interested in a book that you've been wanting them pick up for a while. Many such games incorporate major themes from the books, but do so in short snippets, or make certain aspects of the story into mechanisms within the game. If you'd like to introduce your child to a new story, but find they're reluctant to get started, a game based on the book can be a different way to spark their interest, without having to resort to the movie first!
So if you're looking for a fun and interactive way to encourage your kids to read this summer, try some of these games to help you get started!
Nanofictionary, by Looney Labs, offers a truly unique take on approaching reading and story telling with your kids. Instead of just giving your child a story to read, playing a game of Nanofictionary takes them into the process of building a story, and allows them to be the story-teller themselves!
In the game, players combine cards that make up the key parts of a short story: settings, characters, problems, and resolutions. Once everyone has built their hand of each of these cards, they take turns telling a very brief story, or nano-fiction, that incorporates each of the elements. Because the difficulty is built around the player, it's very suitable for younger players, and makes a great interactive game for family game night!
If your kids already love Harry Potter, then Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a great game that also incorporates reading in a unique way throughout the gameplay! Because Hogwarts Battle is a deck-building game, many of the actions played throughout the game depend on the characteristics of the cards that you collect during your turns. Each card gives you different abilities that will require your child to read through their hand of cards each time, and make decisions based on what each card allows them to do.
The game is also broken up into seven parts, with the first game being a simple, introductory game that can be more appropriate for younger players. Each new part adds a new layer of complexity that keeps the game challenging and fun for repeated play! Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is also a cooperative game, so while I can't promise your kids will get along all summer, they'll at least be working together to achieve the same goal of defeating Lord Voldemort for the duration of the game.
Not to mention, if they haven't already read the books, this could be a great way to get them interested!
Another great game from Looney Labs, Fluxx is the card game of ever-changing rules! Because the rules change and are expanded when new cards are played, reading is certainly a constant throughout the game. Rule cards, Action cards, and Goal cards all have short instructions that will often require immediate reactions and decision making, so reading comprehension is used in a quick and fun way!
The Keeper cards are another great feature of this game, especially for young readers. In order to meet the Goal and win the game, the player must have in their possession a combination of certain Keeper cards. Keepers have simple objects or ideas that are both written and illustrated, making them an easy way to learn new words for the youngest member of the family joining game night! Because flexibility is central to the design of the game, it's easy to tweak the rules to make the game even easier (or more challenging) if need be. With colorful artwork and creative combinations, Keepers and Goals can be separated from the other cards to play a simple matching game that teaches some basic vocabulary, and adds even more value to this fun favorite of ours!
These are just a few games that show that reading and instruction in a game don't have to be limited to an elaborate version of flash cards! Each of these games, and so many more, can be the foundation for not only a fun family game night, but reinforcement of some of the most basic reading skills! What's more, when you participate in the activity with your child, you have the opportunity to encourage them all the more!
And if you or your kids don't already know why Harry Potter hates going home for the summer, then I'd like to suggest a great book for you!