2014 Summer Reading Program Incentives


Sometimes we could all use a little incentive. Luckily, there are a lot of summer reading programs that provide one for children. I’m talking, fill in a reading journal or write a short book report and receive prizes of one sort or another.  Know of a program that isn’t listed?  Please let me know in the comments section and I’ll update the list.

First stop: your school, homeschool co-op, local public library and DOD-MWR Library Installation, and place of worship.

Next stop: one of the local businesses in the list below

Book Stores and Suppliers:

  • Scholastic – help set a new world record with their Reading Under the Stars program!!!  They have book lists for different reading abilities, a timer app you can download to keep track of reading time, and weekly challenges and rewards.  Runs from 5/5 to 9/5.
  • Sylvan’s Book Adventure – read books from their online book lists, go to the website for quizzes on the books to earn point to earn prizes ranging from temporary tattoos and candy to a 3-month Highlights subscription, books, and CDs.  Runs year-round.
  • local, independent bookstores – they don’t all have programs, but many do, and it’s worth calling, asking, or checking out their website
  • Barnes and Noble – my personal favorite, because you can keep going back and getting more prizes.  Pick up their journal in a store or print from their website, read 8 books, and choose from a list of free books.  They have books in different age groups, and you simply go to the kids section of the store, choose one from the summer reading program rack, take it to the counter and pay no money.  As I said, the great thing is they have encouraged me in past years to have my kids keep reading, and to bring back as many journals as my kids will complete, and keep getting free books.  If you have an early reader, they can still participate even though they aren’t in K yet.  Runs through 9/2.
  • Books A Million – Read 6 books on their list of books, return the journal, and get a free Theodore Boone Pencil Case and Pencil (the main character in John Grisham’s kid books).  Runs through 8/16, while supplies last.
  • Half Price Books – Read 300 minutes in each of June and July and receive $5 gift cards for each month.  The child will also be entered in a drawing for a $20 gift card.  Runs through 7/31.
  • Tyndale Media Center – read 5 Christian-centric books from their lists and write 5 reviews on sites like Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and you can choose a free book to receive in the mail.


  • TD Bank – Grades K-5, read 10 books, return the journal, and they will reward you with $10 in a new or existing Young Saver account.  Runs through 8/31.
  • CapCom Federal Credit Union – Kids up to 12th Grade can earn $3 per book read, up to 5 books.  They run the program again in the winter.  In order to receive the money, children must submit (as age appropriate by their standards) a picture or short summary of the book.  Must be a CapCom Member to participate.  Runs through 9/15.


  • Pottery Barn Kids – Kids under 10 who read all the books on one of their reading lists get a free book.  Runs through 6/17.  You can also go meet the characters of PBS’ SuperWhy on special event days.
  • American Girl – Less of a reward program than a source of ideas, quizzes, in-store events, and more.  Runs through 8/26.
  • HEB H.E. Buddy Summer Reading Club – Read 10 books, mail in the form, and receive prizes (it looks like you may receive a t-shirt).  There is no fine print on the form requiring you to live near one of their grocery stores.  Runs through 10/1.


  • Chuck E. Cheese – Earn 10 Chuck E. Cheese tokens by filling in one of their charts, including a reading chart that requires reading each day for two weeks.  Ongoing.
  • Pizza Hut’s Book It Program – read 5 books and complete an Instagram scavenger hunt to earn chances to win prizes.  There are lots of printable activities sorted by title of picture book or chapter book.  Runs through 8/15.


  • Showcase Cinemas – read a book, write a report on their form, and bring to a cinema for free admission to special Wednesday showings of kid-centric movies.  Siblings under 6 and parents may accompany the reader for free.  Runs through 8/13.

Other Resources:

  • Latinas4LatinoLit – Read 8 books, and be either a Freemium of Preemium member by 7/17 and receive prizes and be entered into drawings for some really great rewards (including a ChromeBook!).
  • NEA – tips, resources, and graded book lists.

Summer – Scraboggle

Scraboggle 1

The complete set up for Scraboggle

My kids got out of school on Friday and were adamant yesterday morning that we have “school” at the usual time. Complete with recess. I’m not one to say no to a desire to learn, so I pulled some tasks out of my always-stocked box of activities. We started the day with Bingo (nothing like reinforcing number recognition with the younger one), then pulled out some rocks we had gotten at a museum. I had both kids draw several of the rocks in their summer journals, and then we took turns looking them up. Littlest one ended up reading about the deepest desert in the world (happens to be in Ethiopia, where he was born). My older kid wrote and my younger kid dictated descriptions of the rocks, and some fast facts about them after we identified what type of rock/mineral they were. Huge success, with some reading, writing, art, and science thrown in the mix.

This morning, my son came running out of his room telling me it was time for Moveable Alphabet. For those not versed in the bizarre methods of Montessori, Moveable Alphabet involves using letter tiles to spell words, focusing on phonetics and phonemes. Ever the mother of invention, yours truly went to the game cabinet and pulled out two games we have accumulated from yard sales: Scrabble and Boggle Jr. I set up the Boggle cards so the picture was showing and the word was hidden. I then had my son use the Scrabble tiles to spell the words. He was fabulous. You can see in the picture that there were a few missteps. I copied them into his summer journal, with notes about phonemes he had missed. Behold, the new game of Scraboggle.

For example, “aw” was spelled o-w. I asked him to read what he had spelled, and he immediately realized it was sow, not saw. His hand kept flying to his face to make the “aw” sound and to try to recall what vowel came before the w.

Another interesting one, to me, was can (as in tin can). My son would say it to himself and listen to me, but he kept hearing a “d” at the end of the word. I let him misspell it, and when he pulled the card out to check we talked about why it was can instead of canned (that is, why there was no “d”).

Finally, he tried to spell bus as “bhs.” I tried having him read it back to me and he slowly read “b-huh-s.” I asked him what the H says, and he said “huh.” “Please watch my mouth,” I said, and mostly exhaled to say hhhhhh. That said, he corrected bhs to bus.

I hope this inspires you to use existing games and resources you have at home to keep your kids engaged and learning this summer. I’d love to hear about what you come up with. Happy reading!

Cards and Tiles for Scraboggle

Completed word list for Scraboggle, with sounds to work on

Diversity in Books, Diversity in Life


There was an interesting piece on Tell Me More yesterday (a radio program on NPR), describing some of the challenges of getting kids to read and also of finding books that represent the world and not just one corner/version of it.  The show looks specifically at books that have Latino characters or settings, but isn’t exclusively focused on that (e.g., one recommendation is for Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile.)  I particularly liked the show because they came up with suggestions for all different aged readers. There is both an audio and a transcript version, so don’t feel you need to listen if you would prefer to read it.

Why does diversity in books matter?  I’d say the same reason that it matters in life.  We live in a diverse world and we can only begin to understand and relate to it if we are exposed to it.  I’m reminded of dogs (I have a habit recently of comparing people and dogs, which got me in hot water in a recent conversation, but anyway…), and how puppies need to be exposed to people of different ages, ethnicities, and races in order to help them not be afraid as adult dogs.  The more the exposure, and the younger it happens, the better we can remember that we are all people – a person’s a person, no matter how small (or what color).  Reading books from different view points helps with this expansion of perspective.

Additionally, if your kids are minorities in any way, it can help them feel more comfortable with themselves. One of my kids is totally laid back about being black/brown, whereas the other struggles with it.  The aware one is absolutely attuned to representation of race in tv, movies, books, music, and life.  Hearing comments about “just like me” are heartwarming, whereas “is it ok for blacks to…” (fill in any activity currently on the radar) make me wish we lived in a more diverse area. Whatever you may think of him politically, President Obama helps fill the same role – reminding kids that they do not have to be a certain religion, sex, race, etc. to do or be something. Diverse books help in a similar way – showing kids they possible (or the imaginable).

I also had to chuckle, and wish I could have called in, because there was a section of the show where they were talking about getting kids to read more.  One of the parents said the Kindle helped with his son (as it did with my daughter), but they talked some about the need to choose something like the Paperwhite, which doesn’t have apps and games on it.  The goal is reading, not playing.  It reminded me of my recent post on ereaders.

Thanks, Michel, for another great show.

We will definitely be digging into the list this summer!  Happy reading!

Keeping a child focused


KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) seems appropriate when teaching kids to read.  The skill of reading is so difficult and requires so much concentration, that children don’t need distractions.  I have even been known to cover up black and white BOB book illustrations when my kids were getting too distracted by them.  Generally, if I saw my child’s eyes drift from the words to the picture and then they stopped reading, I tried to redirect them to the text, I reminded them to finish the sentence and then we would talk about the picture, and if none of that worked, I took an index card and covered up the picture.*(see below)*  I only bring this up to show how very easily distracted children can be and to offer the advice to look at your child’s eyes if they seem to be struggling with a text.

Are they tracking the words or are their eyes wandering away?  If they are wandering, is it time for a short break?  Is there a phrase you can use to help bring the child back to the task?  I end up saying things like, “Let’s keep going, I want to know what happens!” and “You’re almost done.  Let’s finish strong and then we can play, but you are only one page from the end.”  (Why did my kids stop with one page left?  Self-defeatist tendencies?  Feeling like they got so close to the end that it’s really the same as finishing?  Child stubbornness?  Who knows.)  Does it help to ask the child about what is happening in the story?  To pause and talk about the picture before going back to the beginning of the sentence/paragraph/page so that comprehension doesn’t suffer?

It can seem silly, but these little redirects are helpful in reminding kids to finish what they start and that even if tired, they can finish the sentence (if not the book) and be proud of what they accomplished.  Which leads me to my last tip on this – if my child was lagging, I gently pushed until I sensed that they were done (as opposed to having a moment), then had them continue until the next logical break (sentence, paragraph, page, chapter), and then we stopped.  There’s always tomorrow.

** I want to be clear that sometimes, kids use the pictures to decode a word.  This is a GOOD use of a picture, and also why picture books are so important to early readers.  I only covered up the pictures when the next word was something I knew my child knew, and he or she was distracted as opposed to struggling with a word.  If you pay attention, you can see the difference, and base your reaction on your child’s need at that moment.

Trouble in Interactive Book Paradise


There has been a recent flurry of news about whether children learn as well from ereaders as they do from paper books. Many of the studies cited are comparing interactive books with paper books. Researchers have found that children have lower reading comprehension on some ereaders because they are getting too distracted by the interactive features. I feel this way with my kids on everything from TV character flashcards to the BOB Books ipad app.

But wait, hypocritical blogger, you may be saying, you recommend the LAZ Readers, which are on the ipad. Yes, I do. But if you look at one of the sample books, you will see how low-tech the readers are. There are no games, no animation, no background music. The only interactive features are the ability to turn pages with your finger (I’ve complained about how sensitive the app is) and the ability to look up a definition of a few words in each book. My kids liked them so much because it was a break from reading paper readers, and made them feel excited just to be doing anything with the ipad.

Long story short, the studies don’t surprise me. I’ve tried to take the simple approach to teaching my own children. I even find that I, a dedicated ereader, get troubled by the new format. It can be harder to go back to recheck something, because you can’t just flip back a few pages. There is a search feature, but the results tend to be overwhelming. Maybe I’m just not an expert at using the finer features of the machine, but I know I’m not alone. Ereaders are here to stay and are fabulous in many ways. But the interactive versions are not, it appears, a great way to get children to read.

All that said, it makes sense to me that if interactive books are what it takes to help increase your child’s interest in reading, go right ahead. Maybe it just means that you need to interact with your child more to ensure that they are really reading and understanding.

What has your experience been?

Letter Flashcards


I mentioned the memo cube I used to make letter flashcards for my kids, but thought it might be helpful to see them – they really aren’t high-tech and I think that’s part of why they worked.  photo 3I used two differently sized memo cubes as my paper sources, which was helpful in later sorting upper from lowercase.  My son started getting confused on some of the letters – upside down M looked like a W – so I added little lines underneath the letters to help clarify which way they were supposed to go.  I liked that the focus was on the letter, not colors and objects all over the card.  My son initially used some colorful TV character letter flash cards, but he was just too distracted by them.  These worked.  And that’s what it’s all about – find what works for your child, and if you can pull it together from things you have lying around the house, even better.  Dollar stores can also be good resources of cheap learning materials.  Have fun and get creative!

No quick fix here!


It drives me bonkers (I know, nice technical term there) to see how many “teach your child to read” sites and blogs are about teaching your itty bitty barely walking baby to read chapter books.  If that is what you want, please look elsewhere.  Want a way to teach your child to read in only three weeks?  Again, look somewhere else.

Reading is one of the most difficult things we help our children learn.  Just because some parent has a child who was reading Harry Potter at 2 doesn’t mean that every child should be, or that the approach that parent took will work for every child.  I have tried to lay out in this site the basic steps it takes to teach a child to read using phonics.  It is a long slog.  Some kids will pick it up faster than others, but they will all get there if they have the right support along the way.  I hope to help you give that support.  So, start setting aside 15-30 minutes a day (or whatever your child will tolerate), and have fun along the way.  If your child is very active, why not make a game of it?  My mother taught me my multiplication tables by having me jump around the blobs on our patterned rug – if I got the right answer I got to jump to another blob.  I wanted to jump, so I worked on getting the answer faster.  Silly, I know, but I still remember both the game and the answers!

As with every other aspect of parenting, modify what I propose so that it works for you and your family.  So please, take a look at the steps I suggest, and let me know what worked for your child.