The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

The Magic of Turning Children into Readers

on August 5, 2016

Every Sunday I make sure to read the opinion section of the New York Times, which is filled with op-eds on various topics. Two Sundays ago I read a piece entitled, “The Right Way to Bribe Your Kids to Read” by K.J. Dell’Antonia, which I  quote from extensively below. Then, I will add my own thoughts about the best way to get children to read more all year long.

 Ms. Dell’Antonia begins by explaining why she believes her own children need to read over the summer vacation: “Kids who read over the summer lose fewer skills than kids who don’t. This is especially important for children from low-income families and those with language problems, like my younger daughter. “

Sharing the same beliefs, many parents bribe their children to read. Some pay their kids by the book, others by the time spent, and one parent Dell’Antonia knows gives her girls a penny a page for reading. A survey she found reported that “60 percent of parents of 3- to 8-year-olds admitted offering their children rewards for reading.”

However, most researchers believe that paying children for reading is not a good idea: “Research, though, suggests that paying children to do things they once enjoyed can backfire. Study after study shows that kids who are rewarded for activities like coloring or solving puzzles, set the coloring books or puzzles aside when the reward dries up, while those who aren’t rewarded carry on with the activities just for fun.”

Finally, Dell’Antonia concludes that “Money may be motivating, but so is living in a home where books and reading are part of family life — and it’s that, rather than the various reward programs, that I plan to focus on at our house.” “Reading together, choosing books, talking about words and stories, or even going to the library is a lot harder than taking a dollar out of our wallets,” she says. Ultimately, she believes, children come to think of reading as a part of their lives.

Although I agree with Dell’Antonia and the other parents who believe that continuing to read over the summer is important for all children, I am opposed to bribery of any sort. Not only does it tend to bring on the problems that researchers have cited, it suggests to children that reading is a chore not worth doing for its own sake. I’m also not convinced that the  solution the author has chosen is the best alternative.  It may be too onerous a ritual for many families. I think there is a better way to achieve the important goal of making reading a part of children’s lives.

From my own experience I have come to believe that reading aloud to children at home and in the classroom is the best way to encourage them to read on their own. My parents read to me and I read to my children.  We all turned out to be avid readers.

When children listen to fascinating stories or absorbing non-fiction, they want more of the same. Also, they may be moved to read the materials an adult has read aloud in order to enjoy them again. Reading is not just a skill; it’s also an addiction—a healthy one—for those of us who were first introduced to it by adults reading aloud.

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