Eat your broccoli! Tips for motivating your children to do their summer reading assignments

As a parent, I never could understand why my kids had to do homework over the summer. It’s one thing to encourage students to read but it’s something entirely different when they are required to read a book and complete a graded assignment.  Since students see this as a “have to” instead of a “want to”, they procrastinate and/or put in a minimal amount of effort which leads to nagging and frustration.


As a teacher, I understand why summer reading is important. Research shows:

  • Many students loose some of the skills they learn over the year due to the long break which puts them at a disadvantage the next year (Cooper 1996). 
  • Reading is the number one way to increase students’ vocabularies (Cunningham & Stanovich 2001).

So, summer reading is a lot like getting your children to eat broccoli. We know it’s good for them but they don’t want to try it! Think back to the strategies you used to get them to eat foods they didn’t want to try. The same strategies can work to motivate your children to do their summer reading assignments.


1.       Start small—“Try one bite.”

  • Anybody can do just about anything for 10 minutes but if that’s too long, ask for 5 minutes or 1 page—anything to get them going.

2.       Offer praise for effort—“You tried a new food today. Great!”

  • Try: “Wow, nice job. You stuck with your reading.” or “I noticed you’re almost half-way through your reading. Way to go!”

3.       Disguise it—Did you ever put broccoli in spaghetti sauce?

  • Let them see the movie before reading the book. And no, it’s not cheating as long as they read it too!
  •  Look at the book while listening to an audio recording.

4.       Show them you like it—“I’ll take a bite and then you take one.

  • Model good reading habits.
  • Read the book as well or alternate reading aloud and then have a short discussion.

5.       Prepare it with them—“Would you like to put the vegetables on the pizza?

  • Guide them to create a summer reading plan that works for them:

When and where do they like to read? Keep in mind summer commitments like vacations, camps, and sports.

How much do they need to read during each sitting? Weekly? Monthly?

How much time do they need to do the assignment that needs to be handed in?

6.       Have fun—Remember when you pretended the spoon was an airplane?

  • Encourage them to create a book club with friends.
  • Have them use active reading techniques like asking lots of questions while reading, taking notes, journaling thoughts, highlighting, or drawing pictures.

7.       Offer rewards—“If you eat your broccoli, you can have dessert.”

  • Use checkmarks, tallies, stickers, tokens, fake money, or even real money to be put towards a reward. The reward doesn’t need to cost money but must be something your child wants. Think of big and small rewards so your children can be rewarded along the way instead of waiting until the end of the summer. (Reward ideas: dinner choice, driving time, sleep-over, day at amusement park, extended video game time, choose family outing, movie night)

In middle and high school, children need to develop independent learning habits so they are the ones who need to be in control of their summer reading. Parents can stay involved, however, by clarifying their own expectations. (Ex: “You will give your best effort on the assignment which means you will be able to tell me what is happening in the story and show me your finished product. It needs to be completed by  _____). Asking “How will you do that?” starts the conversation to create the plan. Continue to guide your children by using the above strategies. If they need help you can ask questions, offer choices, ask for their ideas, and then let them choose.

Finally, put it in writing. Download the worksheet below to use as a guide. Agree on when you should check in to see if your children are on track and add it to your calendar.

Summer Reading Plan Worksheet


Let me know how it goes. If you have questions or want someone else to guide your children to create a plan, contact me.