Summer Reading Programs Tips and Themes

summer reading, school, books, library, programs, childrenA summer reading program is a great way to promote growth and literary skills through the vacation months. Whether school, the library or another group sets it up, here are some tips for making the most of your program.  

Determine Program Approach 

Keep in mind this is summer vacation, and a complex, restrictive or demanding program may discourage participation. With your team, consider the following three approaches: 

  • Set up a competitive program to see which student reads the most books in each grade level.
  • Plan a noncompetitive program where children strive to meet their own goals. You can personalize this for the children by giving them a say in it. For instance, let them decide how many books read in total or the number of minutes spent reading per day.
  • Organize a team-focused program that offers children the motivation of competition with less individual pressure, while fostering teamwork. You could organize by class, grade or another factor.

Decide on a Theme 

An excellent way to get kids excited about learning is to frame the program around a theme. Think about if there are parts of the library's collection you want to promote or a current movie or positive social trend to play off. You might consider a different theme for preschoolers, elementary, middle and high school students. Here are a few to try: 


  • Animal Parade
  • Dino-Soaring Into Books
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Enchanted Castle
  • Super Heroes
  • Through the Jungle
  • Under the Big Top
 Elementary School

  • Around the World
  • Make a Splash
  • Monsters
  • Soar Into The Sky
  • Summer Safari
  • Ticket to Adventure
  • Travel Through Space

Organize a summer reading kickoff with an online sign up! SAMPLE

 Middle School

  • Be Creative (art/music/theater)
  • Building a Better World (architecture/building/construction)
  • Historical Fiction
  • Mega Man Robotics
  • Sports & Games
  • Science Fiction
  • The Science of Super Heroes (flight/lightning/magnetization)
 High School

  • Biographies
  • Cultural Heritage
  • Fantasy
  • Laugh It Up
  • Memoir
  • Reading Road Trip
  • Wellness/Fitness/Sports
Book club online volunteer sign up

Structure the Reading Club 

When it comes to the program's guidelines, too many or complicated rules will discourage participation. Work with your team to put together a simple, yet clear program. Consider the following for your program: 

  • Have participants sign an individual contract with their teacher or librarian. This will encourage individual responsibility and accountability.
  • Include the option to register online or in person. Genius Tip: An online sign up makes registration easy.
  • Think about prizes. There is some debate about the value of handing out stickers or small toys when a student reaches a milestone. The argument against it is that the focus should be on the joy of reading for its own sake. The counter is that if small prizes along the way keep students interested in reading, that's a victory. If you decide to give out prizes, coupons from local restaurants for a free kid's meal or sweet treat are very popular among families.
  • Go for a big prize instead. Your program could put together a big raffle, with prizes such as tickets to an amusement park, local play centers, water parks or sports gyms. For each book read, students can receive one ticket to put in the raffle or you can give out one ticket when a child reaches their reading goals. If you go this route, plan for one big-ticket winner for each grade level. Genius Tip: Collect prize donations from local businesses in exchange for marketing.
  • Plan an awards party at the end of the summer where students are given a certificate and recognized for reaching their goals. Make sure there's a clear deadline and venue for turning in the reading log.

Create Reading Logs 

Reading logs are a must for children to keep track of their books during the summer, and there are a number of apps and printable downloads that can help yours stand out.  

  • Decide whether you want to create a paper vs. digital log and if you want to distribute it to participants as a handout, via email or a download from a group website.
  • Make sure all participants have access to log in information if you're using an app or website to keep track of reading participation.
  • Consider different reading logs for different age groups, designed around the chosen themes.
  • Determine whether you'll have a "check in" at some point in the summer to gauge progress or if you'll give any rewards halfway through.

Set up library reading programs using SignUpGenius! SAMPLE

Promote Event Incentives 

Hosting events throughout the summer is an important way to promote your reading program, encourage student participation and advertise your library or group. Here are some ideas for all ages.

  • Host a summer reading kickoff party with food, face painting and a literary scavenger hunt (all students).
  • Meet the author readings (all students)
  • Hide and seek in the library stacks (preschoolers)
  • Arts and crafts activities such as bookmark making or book covers (elementary school).
  • Movie marathons (middle and high school students).
  • Genius Tip:  Know how many people to expect at your event by allowing people to RSVP online.
Classroom testing proctor volunteer conference sign up form

Plan for Publicity 

Publicity and communication is important to let students and parents know what you have planned — and to increase participation rates.  

  • Design posters and fliers with your theme in mind. Ask for a parent volunteer if you don't have anyone with graphic design experience in your group.
  • Write a press release and media announcement to distribute to school newspapers and community news outlets.
  • Hang summer reading banners in front of the library and distribute fliers to parents in your community at least several weeks before the end of the school year.
  • Continue communicating with students and parents through email and updates on your group's website as the summer progresses.

Organize a book drive with an online sign up! SAMPLE

Throw an End-of-Summer Reading Party 

A fabulous way to reward both students and parents is with an event that celebrates their hard work. Advertise this party from the beginning, so participants have something to look forward to at the end of summer.

  • Use a theme for your party that relates to your summer reading theme for decorations and games. For instance, if you chose superheroes, you could ask children to come dressed as their favorite persona.
  • Gather volunteers to help make your event a success. Genius Tip: Use an online sign up so people can sign up to bring food or schedule volunteer shifts.
  • Assemble gift bags for attendees that include goodies such as pencils, bookmarks and cheap dollar store coloring books.
  • Draw the winning names if you chose to have a raffle as part of your program. This also presents an opportunity to recognize participants with a certificate for achieving their goals.
  • Consider waiting to name the big winners unless you've already had time to tabulate the results or want to recruit volunteers to do this task during the party.
With a little planning, you'll be able to replicate efforts in years to come by making a few tweaks here and there. Happy reading! 

Sara Kendall is a freelance writer and mom of two daughters.