My son logged a lot of reading hours over the school holidays, partly because it is his third favourite way to pass time (the first would be playing with a friend; the second would be any and all screen time) and partly because he was trying to earn a restaurant coupon.
Our local library was hosting a reading program that offered prizes at various levels. The restaurant coupon was one of the higher goals to aim for, but his eight-year-old heart was set on it. (His fourth favourite way to pass time is eating a particularly good batch of French fries in a restaurant).
Pamela Paul, author and editor of the New York Times Book Review, recently wrote for the Times that I’m going about this the wrong way. Reading shouldn’t be rewarded because reading shouldn’t be considered work, she says:
That’s right. You can say no to the back-to-school Read-a-Thon. No three cheers for finishing a book or dollar for every book read. No bonus iPad time if she would please finish one chapter of a single chapter book.
Just as reading shouldn’t be a punishment, it shouldn’t be rewarded. It shouldn’t be work and it shouldn’t be required to earn time for play. Reading isn’t something to plow through determinedly, accounting for each title.
I get her point (and I certainly wouldn’t pay my kid to read). But I am trying to build his reading muscles so that reading becomes part of the natural rhythm of this life. And I’m in a bit of a rush because he’s just a few weeks away from turning 9, which is the magical age in which many kids stop reading for fun.
So Paul and I will have to agree to disagree on that one; if a restaurant coupon motivates my kid to plow through a few extra books, I’ll happily indulge in some fries with him.
One other suggestion she has, though, that I’ve found especially effective: Let them stay up past their bedtime to read.
Reading is itself a privilege, an advantage and a pleasure. Let’s treat it that way.
Does your child want to stay up late? Let him know that if he wants to read in bed, he can go to sleep half an hour past bedtime. Otherwise, lights out at 8pm.
Although my son is perfectly capable of reading on his own, my husband and I still read to him/with him at night. A couple of weeks ago, around the time we were transitioning from the later-than-usual holiday bedtime routine to a back-to-school bedtime, we made a decision: OK, fine, you can stay up a little later if you want to keep reading on your own.
We do put a time limit on it, at least for now. But I know some parents who let their kids stay up as late as they want as long as they’re reading. (After all, they’re bound to fall asleep mid-paragraph at some point like the rest of us.)
Allowing them to push their bedtime back to read feeds their desire to stay up later, makes them feel like a legitimate Big Kid and, as Paul says, it turns reading into a special privilege.