We went to the library and I let the kids sign up for summer reading last week. I also made them pick mounds and mounds of books. Nearly everything they picked was below their reading level. We now have tons of Tintin, Lunch Lady, Stone Rabbit, Araminta Spookie and even an A to Z Mysteries title, which is a series BalletBoy first read part of nearly two years ago. The one challenge was that Mushroom picked up the first Spiderwick book, which is probably right at his reading level or a slight stretch.
Come fall we’ll start doing a little bit of required reading along with self-selected reading, so I’m not worried. Also, I’m mindful of the need to practice and build fluency. Plus, there’s all that evidence that letting kids self-select books for summer reading helps a lot more than providing them with quality literature. Take that, twaddle-callers.
I’m not usually for rewards programs, but as I’ve said before, I’m not going to prevent my kids from participating in them. Last year, the library’s reward for summer reading was free donuts from a chain donut store if you read at least an hour. This year, there are apparently cheapie prizes for reading for three hours and if you read for eight hours then you’ll get entered into a contest to win a free e-reader. It’s like winning a bill for more books.
The kids came home so fired up to read that they proceeded to read for a shocking three and a half hours in the twenty-four hours following signing up. They do read for pleasure almost daily, but it tends to be more in the half hour to an hour at most range. And maybe that Spiderwick book wasn’t much of a stretch for Mushroom, as he read nearly the whole thing in one day, along with several graphic novels.
Sigh. Kids, you’re proving the reward givers right. Cut it out.
We recently got tickets via certified mail for Six Flags via the Read to Succeed program. The kids read for a little while. I logged it in on the website and voila! Free tickets to Six Flags.
There are a lot of programs like this. Free pizza! Free books! Free trinkets! Free junk! My mixed feelings on this subject simply cannot be overstated. I’m a good liberal parent and educator. I’ve read my Alfie Kohn, you know. Just in case you haven’t, Kohn’s 1993 book Punished by Rewards explains how all the ways both big and small that we bribe kids to do things undermines their love of learning and internal motivation. I don’t really disagree. Even before I had kids, when I was first starting my career in education, I agreed with Kohn’s basic premise, but his rhetoric rubbed me the wrong way. To hear him talk, a single gold star on a kid’s math homework will ruin his ability to learn math for math’s sake forever and ever. I don’t really buy that.
I’ve never been able to think that tiny motivators are such a big deal. My kids like stickers and if putting a sticker on their math paper cheers them up, I’ll do it. Similarly, I think there’s a fine line between offering a bribe and doing something nice for a kid after he or she does something hard or something worth being proud of.
On the other hand, I don’t like bribes. I don’t like to say to my kids, do this and I’ll give you something. So most of these free stuff programs bother me. If you want to encourage kids to read, it seems to me that a program like Reading is Fundamental has the right idea while something like Pizza Hut’s well known Book It program is going about it all wrong, as is Read for Success. But, hey, Six Flags is expensive and we read anyway, so I’m not going to feel bad about taking advantage of some free roller coasters.