Planning a summer reading initiative in your school

A school wide summer reading programme is a powerful way to keep students reading over the summer holidays. It also helps build relationships between the school, families and whānau, and public libraries, strengthening the network of support for students. We invite you to use this guide and resources to plan a summer reading initative in your school.


Form a summer reading team
Review research and audit existing school initiatives
Plan your programme
Address the challenges
Measure and set outcomes
Promote your programme
Review, report and refine

1. Form a summer reading team

The first step is to form a team to direct, plan and drive your holiday reading programme. Sharing the responsibility helps ensure the long-term sustainability of the programme in your school. Ideally the team would include your school library staff, some teachers from different year levels and the school’s literacy leaders. You could also involve student representatives and parents, perhaps through your Board of Trustees.

The leadership role of this team will include:

  • informing the school community about summer reading
  • developing and organising the programme and measuring its impact
  • promoting and coordinating the programme among teachers, school leaders, librarians (public and school) and families / whānau.

2. Review research and audit existing school initiatives

Review the research to get a clear understanding of the summer slide, and the benefits of running a coordinated school-wide programme to keep students reading over summer. This includes being clear on aspects that contribute to success of programmes such as:

  • reading for pleasure
  • students choosing their own books
  • role of parents, families / whānau and public libraries.

Discuss summer reading with the staff, share the evidence, and identify priorities and actions.

Find out what is happening already in your school around summer reading. There may already be existing initiatives happening in the school library, individual classrooms, or connections with the local public library.

Download the Reflection on current practice document below to help audit existing activities in your school.
Read case studies from other schools for possible strategies and approaches.

3. Plan your programme

Design summer reading initiatives using an holistic approach, involving students, teachers, parents / families and libraries, keeping the focus on reading for pleasure.

Visit the summer reading school library and teachers pages for ideas on initiatives such as books bags, book lists etc.

  • Consider a brand or slogan for your holiday reading programme with a logo or theme, which can be used on all printed and online materials. Address borrowing policies, for example around permissions, loan limits, books not returned, student / family borrowing.
  • Identify timeframes and responsibilities. Using the school year / calendar, work out what needs to happen, by when, to fit in with a busy end of year schedule – to advertise the programme, run particular events, and co-ordinate with other school activities. Organise school library routines to ensure that the library is available at the end of the term. 
  • Decide who will be responsible for various actions in your plan, including students where possible.

Read more about how principals and schools as a whole can support summer reading.

4. Address the challenges

Feedback from our Sail into Summer Reading Programme suggests schools sometimes face a number of challenges around school summer reading initiatives. It's worth pre-empting any problems developing into roadblocks by working through some constructive strategies with your team, ahead of time.

Bring your staff on board

Support from the principal, providing leadership and direction to staff, will help bring your school staff on board. Background information such as the summer reading research and what other schools have done will also help. Starting the discussions early in the school year allows time to develop and build your summer reading programme into the overall school calendar, rather than being a Term 4 last-minute add-on.

In addition, it's important the core Summer Reading Team keeps up the communication and information flow to colleagues, through:

  • providing staff with support to get the programme off the ground, with templates, handouts, booklists from your school library, information from public library programmes, and information for parents
  • trialling efforts with willing staff to get some initiatives underway and then sharing results from the data
  • including library staff / teachers from the beginning so key people aren’t left out.

Enlist parental, family / whānau support

Gaining support from parents / whānau is essential to the success of your summer reading programme. Parents will need information, conveyed in a variety of ways - online, face to face, at school events, in newsletters, flyers and posters - on the difference their support will make to their student's academic achievement. Practical suggestions on how to keep their children reading will be valuable, along with:

  • resources they will need to keep their students reading
  • permission slips as a way to communicate about borrowing
  • help organising public library membership through the school / students
  • book recommendations – easy to read, series that hook kids in, good read alouds, and talking about books…
  • sharing the Help your child become a reader brochure.

Generate interest among students

Students need to understand why summer reading matters. How you go about explaining this will depend on the age and level of understanding of your chosen group. You can share data showing their reading progress, perhaps presenting this graphically, and generate enthusiasm in various ways, including:

  • promoting great books, ensuring you give them plenty of choice in different formats, genres and levels
  • sharing your own enthusiasm as a reading role model
  • getting teacher colleagues doing the “preparation, promotion and practice” activities in their learning spaces – how to choose books, how to manage difficulties in reading, practise SSR, and discuss books and reading
  • creating challenges – easy and fun reading logs, reading passports, number of books / words read, minutes spent reading.

Time pressures

Shortage of time is one of the most common issues raised when a new initiative is being proposed.

  • We suggest you start your summer reading planning early, at least by Term 3.
  • Another idea is to build in a programme of holiday reading / holiday borrowing for each school holidays so that it is business as usual rather than just a summer programme.
  • Consult your colleagues, and get together with a team to talk about what needs to be done and how to share the responsibility.

Budget-friendly summer reading

Summer reading doesn’t need to be a costly activity. Overheads may include some photocopying of information or reading logs and opening up of the library during January to issue more library books (see overcoming Library operations-removing the barriers below), but you don't need prizes or costly rewards.

Most research says that the rewards from reading need to be intrinsic rather than extrinsic to keep children motivated.

Student transience / leaving at end of year

If your school has an issue with transience of students at year-end (which will affect primary and intermediate schools at Year 8, but may involve other levels to an extent in other schools) here are some ways to address this:

  •  Have holiday reading through year but at the end of the year exclude students leaving the school unless they can borrow books by special arrangement (siblings at the school, small community etc)
  •  Promote public library membership and borrowing to students who are leaving
  •  Offer other options for students to get books, eg book swap, Duffy books, reasonable quality weeded books
  •  Coordinate with local schools to allow books borrowed from one school to be returned to the library at their new school.

Library operations – removing the barriers

As part of your summer reading planning, it's a good time to review any restrictive or prohibitive library practices or policies. Your aim is to make it as easy as possible for students to borrow enough books for several weeks of summer reading, ensuring your school library is open for them to do so.

  • In consultation with your library staff, review and relax your library's borrowing policies, especially your library management system's settings for borrowing limits.
  • Review your policies around overdue or lost books in relation to continued borrowing by students, and the library's role in supporting their literacy development.
  • Create family library cards.
  • Ensure any stocktaking activity can either be done while the library remains open, or rescheduled to another time of year.
  • Work out how and when your school library could re-open once or twice in January for students to exchange their books. The planning team will need to clarify whether this will involve paid time for library staff, or done on a voluntary basis, and whether issues of security are involved.

One secondary school broke with tradition and reported that:

The library has traditionally been closed about four weeks from end of year. I am new to the position and managed an 'open door' stocktake perfectly well. Participant, Sail into Summer Programme


...[We offered] a special ‘Book Break’ day for borrowing after stocktake. As all books were returned, students could take an entire series. Participant, Sail into Summer Programme

5. Measure and set outcomes

Review school data on student reading levels and the impact of summer holidays on student achievement. This is about gathering evidence for your initiatives and some baseline data to measure the success of what happens in various ways.

Set outcomes such as reading for pleasure, identifying target groups of children who may not have access to support or resources over the summer or are reluctant readers.

Read more about measuring the impact of your Summer reading initiative.

6. Promote your programme

Once your team has done the planning, you need to communicate information about your programme and attract buy-in from colleagues, students, and the parent community.

Look into the best ways to get information about the programme to each of your different audiences; students, families and whānau, school staff and the wider community:

  • Use various channels; the school website, school library website, school blogs, social media, school newsletters, flyers, brochures, school television
  • Identify opportunities to help parents understand what they can do to help their child, through providing information, practical strategies, resources and support
  • Take the opportunity to raise your school profile by writing a media release about the programme for local newspapers and business newsletters

Read more about Parents and families / whānau supporting summer reading (and download the Help your child become a reader brochure).

Liaise with the public library:

  • Meet with the children’s / teen librarians at the local public library
  • Invite them to school to promote any programmes
  • Encourage students to participate in public library holiday reading programmes.

Read more about Public libraries supporting summer reading.

7. Review, report, reflect and refine

Schedule some time at the start of the new year to celebrate reading efforts, gather some evidence of impact, and review the programme to refine and extend it in subsequent holidays.

Share the impact of the school’s initiatives around summer reading. Report to school management and BOT, celebrate successes with students, liaise with the public library to share feedback, create publicity in the community to spread the holiday reading message.

You're welcome to download and use the Reporting on summer reading downloadable template and Reflection on current practice templates below.

Read about approaches various schools have made for summer reading and download examples from the Schools supporting summer reading page.

Image: Summer reading competition Ahipara School