Sunday, March 20, 2011

On Raising Readers

Today, I interrupt my own endless fascination with my fast-approaching publication date forIRREPARABLE HARM to write about raising kids who read.

But first, a picture of our littlest "reader."

As former kids who read, my husband and I naturally filled our kids' world with books from the time the were born. We have bookcases, baskets, and bins overflowing with children's books scattered throughout the house. And a typical trip to our fantastic local library usually results in each of us leaving with an armload of books. (The boys make it a point to always pick a few for their baby sister.)
Nothing makes me happier than seeing my kids sit down and pull out a book. Now that our five year old is reading fluently, he will often read to his younger brother or sister. (Not to mention, I am far from the only writer in the house! Both boys write their own stories---either themselves or by dictating to me or my husband.)

Okay, great, right? What's my point?

As the boys are getting older, I worry that they are getting the message that reading is boring and no fun. It's a chore, but if you just suffer through it, you will be rewarded.

How? By the seemingly endless parade of reading programs aimed at kids. You know, you keep track of how many books you read or had read to you during a specific period and then you turn in your sheet for prizes. (I'm not sure what those prizes are, because we don't participate.*)

Reading is its own reward. The prize for reading is being transported to another world or learning endless facts about dinosaurs that you can spout at our mother before she's even had her morning coffee. Getting a free pizza or trinket shouldn't be the pay off.

And, it turns out, my knee-jerk, no-fun reaction is supported by the research. Here's what Alfie Kohn's thought-provoking book, PUNISHED BY REWARDS, has to say about reading incentive programs:

"What rewards do, and what they do with devastating effectiveness, is to smother people's enthusiasm for activities they might otherwise enjoy."

The full discussion is really interesting and I encourage you to read it.

So this is why I am that parent. The one who won't let her kids earn the prizes. So far, they could not care less; they just want to read for the sake of reading. Here's hoping it stays that way!

* We did participate in a Read-A-Thon to buy a new chair and ottoman for the children's section of our beloved library. The rationale was the boys themselves received nothing but a thank you note and, as heavy users of the children's section, we were in agreement that the sad, well-used chair needed to be replaced.

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