Recovering Resilience Through Play,
Connection & Reading Aloud Together
By Pam Leo, Family Literacy Activist
“We read to our children because it gives both them and us an education of the heart and mind. Of intellect and empathy. We read together and learn because stories teach us how to love.” - Sarah MacKenzie, author, Read-Aloud Family.

We all headed into this summer still reeling from the hardest year that most of us have ever experienced. The pandemic left no aspect of our lives undisrupted. The very fabric of our way of life was ripped apart and we are still grieving many losses, of lives and of our way of living.

While we are seeing a glimmer of light ahead, we still have much healing work to do to mend our lives and move forward. In our haste to “get back to normal” we need to remember that our children are not the same as they were before this experience. All children have been impacted by the pandemic in some way. Many in the same ways and many in different ways. There is great concern about “learning losses” and that children have fallen behind due to lack of access to classes and resources.

Tempting as it may be to try to use the summer break as academic catch-up time by having children spend more time on academics and less time playing, children need quite the opposite. There are two important things our children need this summer to help them to recover their resilience and move forward. The first is to have us read aloud to them, no matter what their age. The second is to make sure they have lots of time for unstructured play, no matter what their age.

The benefits of reading aloud to children even if they can read independently are many. Reading to children builds their vocabulary, improves comprehension and listening skills. Because they can listen at a higher level than they can read, children become more interested in the story. But the best benefit is the connection that is created and maintained through daily read-aloud time. Sharing stories creates memories just like taking a trip together. Reading books aloud with my grandchildren are some of my sweetest memories of spending time together. Reading aloud is also a model for older children that they can read to younger children.

Besides establishing Little Free Libraries in under-resourced neighborhoods and giving out free books to children, the best way the Book Fairy Pantry Project could support parents to help their children be in the best academic and emotional shape to resume classes when they do, is to offer a summer family reading challenge. Here’s how it works. For children ages birth through 3rd grade, the challenge is for each child to “collect” 100 stories by the end of August. The stories can be read or told and recorded in a story log. Older siblings can also count the number of pages they read to younger siblings in their own reading logs.

For fourth, through twelfth graders, the challenge is to read 1,000 pages this summer. It could be two 500 page books, four 250 page books, ten 100 page books or any combination that totals 1,000 pages. Their books may be read independently or parents and siblings could share in the reading aloud. Both the reader and the listener get to count the number of pages read.
The Book Fairy Summer Reading Challenge materials are free. Families can download and print their story logs and certificates of completion at or pick them up at Maine Needs, 10-1 Mon-Sat at 332 Forest Avenue in Portland, Maine.

There are no prizes; only the surprises inside every book.

With much of their “catching up” work taken care of through reading aloud it will leave children more time for the unstructured play that is the hallmark of childhood in summer. The more we learn about children’s need for a return to education through unstructured play, the more we need to make sure we are making room in our heavily scheduled lives for “play.” My absolute favorite book on this topic is Peter Gray’s Freedom To Learn.

I have it both as a text and as an audiobook and I have listened to it at least half a dozen times because repetition is my learning style. Better days are coming and we can make them even better when we read aloud a lot, let the children play a lot and love each other....a lot! Happy Summer!

Pam Leo, is a family literacy activist, the author of Connection Parenting, and a new poem, Please Read To Me. Her enduring love of children's books, her passion for literacy, and her commitment to empowering parents, are combined in her new role as the founder of the Book Fairy Pantry Project, whose mission is "No Child With No Books," because "Books change children's lives... For good."