Summer Reading Lists: Bore, Chore, or Score?

By Eric Braun

Minneapolis writer Eric Braun on Thursday, November 20, 2013.Whether the kids in your life love to read, hate to read, or, most likely, are somewhere in the middle, the answer to the titular question is largely up to us—the grown-ups, the makers and enforcers of the summer reading list.

Probably most of us agree that reading is good, and the summer backslide is bad. Summer reading can help put the brakes on the backslide. Plus, reading is fun.

At least it’s supposed to be. But sometimes summer reading lists miss that part. Sure, we want to challenge students. Sure, you may need to have them working ahead for the fall. That doesn’t mean summer reading has to feel like schoolwork.

To make summer reading more of a score than a bore or a chore, consider these tips:

  • Plan a small amount of reading time into each day. That way reading becomes a habit, and the small chunks are less likely to feel like a huge hassle. Plus, you avoid cramming (making up for hours of reading at the end of summer).
  • Not too many kids are going to get excited about fighting through King Lear and writing a response paper. For tough books, especially classics, even honors-level high schoolers may need help getting an emotional return on their reading investment without a teacher to guide understanding. If possible, save super-challenging books for the school year.
  • Child_reading_at_Brookline_Booksmith by Mr Absurd from wikimedia commonsGive kids a say in what they read. Instead of assigning X number of required books, provide a list with books of varying difficulty levels, lengths, genres, and subjects, and let kids pick the ones they want to read.
  • Offer a choice in how students respond, too. Instead of the old-hat essay, this School Library Journal article suggests giving students the options of making a drawing, writing an imaginary interview with the protagonist, writing a letter to the author, and other great ideas.
  • Set an example. Parents can show their kids that reading is important by spending free time reading (books, not Facebook!). Teachers can talk about what they’re reading and what they plan to read over the summer. Love books, and kids are more likely to do the same.

If you’re looking for a few good reading lists, here you go!

  • The American Library Association offers extensive lists for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade, with an emphasis on recent titles. (For instance, it includes recent prizewinners and honorees like El Deafo and Brown Girl Dreaming.)
  • So does Education World, though these lists skew toward tried-and-true titles like Make Way for Ducklings and The Little Engine that Could for younger readers, Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume for middle grade, and Of Mice and Men for older kids. Still worth checking out, if for no other reason than you might be reminded of a beloved book or two.
  • kids-book-club1Goodreads has all kinds of great lists, all based on tags and ratings by users. Here’s a slew of middle school book lists subcategorized in a terrific variety of ways, from “Best School Assigned Books” to “Bullied Boys” to “Best Feminist Literature for Middle Schoolers.”
  • This list of the best books of 2014, from picture book through teen, comes from no less an authority than Horn Book. It includes something for everyone: poetry, nonfiction, and even one awesome retelling of a folklore story.
  • Every year the Rainbow Project selects quality books with “significant and authentic GLBTQ content.” The selection highlighted here focuses on books from 2012–2015 appropriate for young readers up to age 18.
  • For many readers, fun reading means graphic novels. Here’s YALSA’s list of the best graphic novels of 2015.

Of course, it’s always a good idea to check with your local public library. Most libraries plan some sort of summer reading program, many of which offer rewards, book clubs, online interaction, and more.

Eric Braun is a writer and editor, so he’s kind of biased about reading.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

See also:
Reading and Recommending Graphic Novels
Summertime and the Reading is Easy

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Ed Tech: 10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Tech Training

Scenario: There is a Tech Expo and Workshop Day in your state, and your school decides to send you. Which description best fits you?


  1. You spend the day deeply involved in workshops, hit every vendor table that your fellow teachers asked you to, and take copious notes. You come back armed with materials to share and are excited to try at least one new app or program in your own classroom. Soon you are gathering fellow teachers to share new ideas and helping them start to use new tools, too.
  2. You spend the day in workshops and visit vendors’ tables, but come back feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. There are too many ideas, and you do not understand how to use the new tools. Finding the time to master the new tech and integrate it in your classroom seems unrealistic. You have no idea how to share the info with other teachers, since you don’t really understand how it works yet yourself.

Wherever you fall—1, 2, or somewhere in between—here are ten things you can do to walk away from your next tech conference ready to incorporate some new tools and ideas:

Before the Event

1. Learn more about the conference. Scour their website and Facebook pages. Review the speaker and workshop info as early as you can. Plan which workshops you want to attend. Use their social media—if they have a Twitter hashtag, start following it now so you get updates. Check to see if your targeted speakers use Twitter and start following them as well.
keyboard one2. Talk to your coworkers. Have any of them attended this conference before? They should have tips for you. Are others looking for specific information? Discuss how you can help get it. If you are a humanities teacher and the physics teacher wants the scoop on a new set of apps, it may be over your head. But, you can take an envelope with her name on it in your conference bag and gather brochures and business cards for her.
3. Have a chat with your school or district tech person or media specialist. It will do you no good to come home with a new program or app only to find that it’s not supported by your district. Know your platform—Apple or Google? District Cloud or school-based server?
4. Set yourself a goal. Narrow the topic list. If classroom management is your special interest, pick out all the vendors and workshops on that topic, then narrow down the list—decide just what you want to bring home and use. While you may have more than one goal, the more focused you are on what you want to bring home and use, the more you will get out of those workshops and vendors.

At the Conference

5. Make the most of workshops. Hit every workshop and vendor that will help you reach your goal. Ask lots of questions! Take notes.
ed tech keyboard6. Keep records. At workshops, if the presentation materials are not available online, ask for a copy from the presenter so you can share with your coworkers later. Get contact info from speakers and vendors and make a note of why you wanted to stay in touch with them. That odd business card in the bottom of your bag will wind up in the trash if you don’t! Take notes during the keynote—watch for inspirational quotes or anecdotes to share with your coworkers later.
7. Be comfortable. Yes, you should wear comfortable shoes. You should carry a bag that won’t get too heavy as you fill it. But, you should also be comfortable talking to the experts; they are there to help you learn about their approach or product.
8.Confirm that you understand. If a hands-on workshop on screen-sharing software and apps leaves you still confused, speak up! No one wants you to walk away without understanding how to use them, how to set them up, and what they can and cannot do.

When You Head Home

keyboard two9. Review your notes. Do this as soon as you can, while the day is still fresh in your mind. Then you will be able to find that vendor’s info for the physics teacher, look up the other suggested screen-sharing apps, and send an email off to a presenter with a question while your mind is still on the training.
10. Share with your peers. Put up a summary bulletin board in the teachers’ lounge. Email some notes to others. Set up a block of time to sit with fellow teachers and go over the things that impressed you most. Share your handouts. See if another teacher would also like to test that new app and compare with you. If you find something that works great for your class, let your principal know, and email that info to the tech support person you talked to before the conference.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2015 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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On Memorial Day

Fireworks memorial day 2014 wikimedia commons USMC The WireMemorial Day has the Free Spirits staying home with their families and friends. Some of us will be picnicking, others at parades or visiting memorial sites important to us. Food, fireworks, and getting in the spirit of summer will be high on our activities for the day. We hope it will be a relaxing and reflective day for you as well.

If you’re not out at a picnic or parade, consider checking out one or two books from this LA Times list, 25 Essential Books for Memorial Day.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Share the Wealth: Embracing Endings

By Laurel Lisovskis, BSW

Part 4 in our Share the Wealth series. Click to read other Share the Wealth posts.

Laurel LisovskisFor those of us who live by the academic calendar, this time of year can be FULL. We are buried in our schedules and immersed in the programs, activities, and relationships we have cultivated over the year. Off-hours obligations abound, and the day’s end often finds us drained. This is the time of year where deadlines rule us, and Mondays stalk us over the weekend, compressing our already stacked to-do lists with residue from the week before. It is no wonder that our awesome students aren’t the only ones running and screaming from the building come the end of the year.

Along with this pregnant time of year comes another, more subtle feeling: a slightly disconcerting, uneasy one in the back of our minds. For if we look up and out, we can see quite clearly that good-byes are looming. Behind the hustle and bustle and work and play are our wonderful service users—the people for whom we do the work, and it will soon be time to part ways.

Even if we do see them again, it is not in the same capacity. People move, kids move on, systems fluctuate, providing different roles for employees . . . It is life, right? This reason alone is enough to consider that the learning opportunities for “termination practices” are critical. It is a part of our work to share and model how to talk about endings and how to acknowledge them. In embracing this part of the relationship process, we are honoring it.

Here are three amazing practices that Bethel Schools are using to reach out to the population regarding the onset of summer and the closing of school facilities.

1) Pre-Summer Panel
Summer Panel TeacherTraining by Thelmadatter via wikimedia commonsOur district’s licensed clinical social worker is the hub of mental health–related activities in the district. Housed in the health center, she sees many families, and so she naturally sees the benefit of assembling a panel of local providers to speak to district staff, especially school counselors, nurses, and, if they can swing it, key EAs (educational assistants) because they spend a lot of time talking to kids. We will meet for an hour and a half toward the end of the school day in the district office. The point of the panel is to feed schools information so they can make parents and students aware of what mental health/prevention/wellness services are available in the community. The agencies are being asked to give a brief presentation or provide a menu of options regarding how families can access their services. Panelists will disseminate information for ten minutes each and bring flyers and brochures for staff to take back to their respective schools, and then we’ll have some time for Q and A.

This annual event was very well attended last year, and is a simple, easy, incredibly logical way for important information to get passed along to students and families as they let go of district facilities and resources for the summer months. The panel for Bethel this year is made up of the representatives from the City of Eugene Parks and Recreation, Whitebird Clinic (crisis and resource-oriented), Centro Latino Americano, Trillium (our version of Medicaid), and the Oregon Family Support Network (counseling service-oriented).

2) Summer Supervision Skills Training for Parents
Many school counselors, check-in/check-out coordinators, and front office staff have been an ear for parents over the year, listening to the challenges faced around the struggle for adolescent independence versus the uncompromising need for safety. For these parents, it can be good to offer tools for summer supervision.

Summer Saftey Tips handout cover imageWhether it’s a handout, a group meeting, or simply a phone consultation, working parents who need some guidance for summer survival while they work will welcome relevant and realistic information. By this time of year, it is all about meeting parents where they’re at and providing useful tools for monitoring from a far. I am using Summer Supervision Skills from Project Alliance, an agency in Portland that works closely with students and family-school partnerships to achieve academic success. The skills include things like knowing your child’s friends and peers, setting clear rules and limits based on achievable goals, and partnering with other known parents in the neighborhood to ensure safety based on supervision methods like unannounced drop-ins. For this weary and wary crew of parents, creative solutions are welcomed and embraced.

3) Terminating Relationships for Individual Therapy
Letting kids know that with the end of the year comes the end of the counseling can be uncomfortable, and we often avoid it. With the right tools, however, this process doesn’t have to be unpleasant. In fact, it can even be empowering. student and teacher goodbye by Olivisr via wikimedia commonsBuilding a self-care plan, identifying safe adults, and reminding kids about summer activities can be helpful. Use that good information you got from attending/organizing your district’s pre-summer panel! It may be critical to provide gentle reminders and psycho-education around the benefits of taking psych meds with regularity over the summer and keeping up on prescriptions. These are just a few examples.

So, readers, as you wrap up your school year, consider having some conversation about the things that are available to your beloved students and their families. Ask yourself what you can share toward the goal of helping everyone have a healthy, happy summer. Having intentional termination activities, be they community-focused, group, or individual, is pretty much a sure bet to resting a little easier—and embracing our own summer experiences with clarity and a sense of completion.

Laurel Lisovskis, BSW, is in her second year of graduate school working toward clinical licensure in social work at Portland State University. Her field placement is at the school-based Bethel Health Center, one of the innovative programs conceived through an alliance between state healthcare initiatives and public schools to bring services directly to students and families at school sites. Her intern experience includes doing individual and group therapy, as well as traditional social work roles such as resource utilization, collaboration with internal and external supports, and case management. Laurel is also working within the clinical setting to streamline integrated care services. With over ten years of expertise in counseling in both healthcare and public school domains, she lends a unique perspective of the connectivity between mental health and the well-being of middle school student populations.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Guest Post: Why Character Education Is Important for Young Children

By Cheri J. Meiners, author of the Learning to Get Along® and Being the Best Me! series

Meiners_Cheri2 FSP Author

Cheri Meiners

“Character is like a tree and reputation is like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” —Abraham Lincoln

President Lincoln is one of my all-time heroes. I respect his deeply rooted character, and that he didn’t sway or compromise his principles. According to Lincoln’s own observation, character is the real thing—it is the essence of who we are. His metaphor of a tree reminds us that teaching our children time-honored principles can help them stay grounded and rooted so that they can stand tall and live with integrity when winds of challenge blow. Others are also positively affected when children offer fruits of kindness, responsibility, and respect.

Character is an aggregate of all our traits and includes all of our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. Our children’s character is molded by their decisions and affects every aspect of their current and future life. As parents and teachers, we’re responsible for their upbringing, and we play a vital role in helping children develop their full potential. With the many varied messages children see in the media and in their associations, we can’t expect them to merely observe and adopt the character traits and maturity that we’d like them to develop. A consistent and thorough teaching of ethical behavior is critical to shaping character. Here are some reasons why:

FeelConfident detail copyright FreeSpirit Publishng


1. Character development is the basis for personal growth. As children practice skills that promote character development, they build a reservoir of strength that they can draw on throughout their lives. Self-esteem, confidence, courage, resilience, integrity, and forgiveness are examples of traits that can sustain children at home, at school, and in the community.

2. Character development is the foundation for lifelong learning. Schools that teach character education report increased academic performance and attendance. They also report decreases in disciplinary problems. Children appreciate the safe environment that occurs when their peers are also learning about respect, honesty, and compassion. Teachers also find it easier to teach when children are learning to exhibit habits of patience, diligence, and self-control in the classroom.

3. Character is the bedrock that solid relationships are built on. Our children will be happier, more caring, more forgiving, and more responsible as they are taught to think about the needs of others.

Share and Take Turns copyright Free Spirit Publishing

Take Turns!

Cooperation, tolerance, and teamwork are examples of social skills that can be experienced firsthand when children are given the tools and opportunities. Schools and homes are ideal settings for children to practice communicating, sharing, and getting along. Speaking of how relationships and character are intertwined, Woodrow Wilson said, “If you will think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself.”

4. Character shapes us as neighbors and citizens. Our character is a holistic language we daily communicate to others. We constantly affect one another. Beyond our homes and schools, our children’s character will also affect all of us in the workplace and in our communities as they grow to be our employees, neighbors, and leaders. When young people have not been taught principles of character that can anchor them, and if they don’t feel strong ties to faith, family, or community that nurture them, they may feel adrift and hopeless. They may not be attuned to the consequences of their actions, or to the needs of others. Delinquency, gangs, and violence are sadly visible in our culture and are a reminder that we have an awesome responsibility to exhibit strong character ourselves as we raise and influence the next generation.

Developing a respectful and responsible character is a skill every child needs in order to thrive, find fulfillment, and be an influence for good in society. On the importance of character education to prepare children for learning and for life, Dr. Kevin Ryan (founder of the Center for Character and Social Responsibility) emphatically stated, “Character education is not one more thing to add to your plate. It is the plate!”

learning-to-get-along-WEB BeingTheBestMe-RGB

Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., has her master’s degree in elementary education and gifted education. A former first-grade teacher, she has taught education classes at Utah State University and has supervised student teachers. She is the author most recently of the Being the Best Me! series of picture books. Cheri and her husband, David, have six children and enjoy the company of their lively grandchildren. They live in Laurel, Maryland.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

Suggested Resources
Stand Tall: A book about integrity by Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed.
Reach Out and Give by Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed.
Be Polite and Kind by Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2015 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Character Education, Early Childhood, Parenting | Tagged , , | 2 Comments