Summer reading programs are in full swing across the country (see below for some free summer reading programs). While these programs are wonderful vehicles for encouraging reading during the summer, stress and anxiety may present road blocks to summer reading success. As a teacher with a doctorate in education, a specialty in curriculum and instruction, and a Ph.D. in Psychology, I have long been aware that when children are stressed, they cannot concentrate, process, or retain information. Therefore, a summer reading program should be an enrichment experience, rather than a structured lesson.

I have researched the subject since the early 1990s. As a result of my studies on how both stress and parental involvement affect reading in children, I have come to the conclusion that parental involvement can be the greatest de-stressor for children’s learning. Summer reading gives parents a wonderful opportunity to bond with their children, by reading with them.

Model Behavior
Historically, parents have had the greatest effect on a student’s early reading, for the parent is the child’s first and primary teacher. This effect can either be positive or negative, as children model parental behavior through social learning. In fact, children’s educational attitudes are often shaped and molded generationally. Several studies have indicated that if a parent is actively involved in a child’s reading progress, the child has a greater opportunity to succeed. This social learning sends a positive message to an early reader about the importance of reading. In addition, the student is reinforced to value reading, because his or her parents value reading.

According to a 1983 Journal of Educational Research article, “Home & School Correlates of Early Interest in Literature,” Dr. Lesley Mandel Morrow, states that “Parents who read books and magazines as leisure activities are more likely to have children with a high degree of interest in literature and reading.” Furthermore, Morrow suggests, “It is not necessary for the parent to order and demand something, only that he set an example for the child to see. Once that example is set, and the child picks up what his parents view as important, that child will usually follow.”

Make Reading an Adventure
Summer reading should be pleasure reading. Children should be free to pick their own book out of a group of age-appropriate books. A trip to the library can make reading a cost-free, fun adventure.

All children desire more time with their parents, and reading is an exciting and stimulating way for parents to potentiate and define positive internal reading motivation. A 20-minute, daily reading experience is all that is necessary to transfer a positive reading attitude from parent to child. Actively engaging imagination, through storytelling, leads to a more confident and more successful reader. Additionally, a consistent, daily reading practice has many benefits, including reading fluency, and comprehension skills.

There are some ways we parents can help our children de-stress this summer, and enjoy and excel in summer reading.

Tips for creating a stress-free summer reading environment for your kids:

1. Freedom within limits. Summer reading should be fun reading and children should have a sense of control over what they read. Plan an enjoyable excursion to a bookstore or library that is print-rich with displays of exciting, colorful, and interesting summer books. This is how reading can become both a bonding experience between parent and child and an adventure. Guide your child to the area of age-appropriate books and then let them select their own reading material. Summer reading should not be treated as a classroom experience, but rather a liberating, imaginative journey into the world of storytelling.

2. Reading practice. A regular reading practice of 20 minutes a day is beneficial to reading achievement. Also, verbal interaction between parent and child can result in inspiring both the child’s imagination and interest. Both of these practices have the consequence of enhancing fluency and reading comprehension. Children should be encouraged to ask questions and talk about the story they are reading.

3. Peer group socialization. Children are often motivated by their peers. If there are reading groups during the summer at both libraries and bookstores, you should invite your child to join. Thus, they will not only be reading age-appropriate material and discussing it with other children, but with their parents as well.

4. Reading opportunities. Poor readers often lack opportunities to read. Making the home environment print-rich is a way to create opportunities for reading. Since parents actually organize a child’s home environment, it is important to invest in books, magazines and newspapers that can stimulate a child’s interests in reading. Further, there is high correlation between verbal skills and reading skills. Therefore, by encouraging children to tell you about the story that they are reading in particular and by discussing their reading material in general, parents can positively impact reading skills. Since reading requires mastery of a strong vocabulary and of comprehension skills, the child must be able to perceive, recognize and associate written symbols in order to read. Moreover, it is both concrete and abstract concepts that must be assigned to the written word. In fact, success in reading seems to be directly related to a child’s ability to listen and to speak.

5. Nurturing Reading Development. One of the most effective ways parents can positively influence their child’s reading success is by reading to them. Studies indicate that children who became poor readers started school with less experience than their counterparts. As a result, it is important to provide support on a regular basis to children in the early stages of their reading experience to compensate for this deficit.

6. Let your children see you read. Children take cues from their parents. Parents need to actively model the importance of reading by reading to and with their children. Pick up that bestselling novel for your family trip to the beach, check out library books with plots set in your vacation destinations, and take turns reading your child’s book with him/her at bedtime.

Your own enthusiasm for reading is one of the most effective and accessible tools in your parenting toolbox to help reduce stress and encourage your child to engage in summer reading. It is this bonding experience that will lower stress and foster not only a life-long love of reading, but also of learning. When you as a parent bond with your child, and when you become more active in your children’s summer reading efforts, you show them that summer reading is an important journey – one that is relaxing and enjoyable wherever your summer plans take you.

National Reading Programs:
Scholastic Summer Challenge
Barnes and Noble Summer Reading
Be sure to check out your local library for free summer reading programs.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.