Monday, July 23, 2007

Bringing Up Readers

I took the kids to the library on Saturday morning. It's not an unusual event - we usually go two or three times a month. We have a whole bookcase filled with children's literature, but we get bored with the same books. Besides, our local branch has a fantastic children's section. There are so many books, toys, and activities, plus there are always other children milling around. I let the kids pick their own books while I select more books that I think are appropriate for them. We generally end up with a pile of books only slightly shorter than Claire which we read one after the other as soon as we arrive home. I spent much of my childhood reading and it seems that my children are happy to follow in that path.

On this particular visit, the librarian on the children's floor asked us if we had signed up for the summer reading program. Jacob replied that he had indeed. Then the librarian looked at Claire, looked at me, and asked if Claire would like to sign up as well. What??? Why on earth would a two year old child need to sign up for a reading program? For that matter, I'm not sure that a six year old child needs to sign up for a reading program! Jake did sign up and after he reads his first five books, I'll take him to pick up his special pencil (I'm the mean mom who is only counting books that Jake reads himself, not the books that I read to him) and so on until the program ends. But after the request to enroll Claire in the program, I'm beginning to wonder.

In kindergarten, part of Jake's homework every night was for a parent to read to him for 15 minutes each night. We dutifully filled out the sheet with the books we read and Jake carefully colored a star for every book. But we both resented the intrusion into our reading time. Five minutes spent filling out a sheet was five minutes that we had to tear ourselves away from our book. On top of that, we had to fill out a different reading list with ten books we read over the course of the month in order to qualify for a free pizza. Again, we dutifully filled out the sheet to prove that we were reading - which we would have been doing anyway - and received our coupons. We only used the coupon one time out of the nine that Jacob "earned."

I can't help but wonder if all these programs are detrimental. At what point do literacy programs turn into bribery? Do kids really learn to love literature if they're just reading to earn a pencil or to enter a drawing for baseball tickets? If kids love storytime anyway, are we cheapening the experience by essentially putting a price tag on it? I can see the advantage of these types of reading programs if they are actually bringing new patrons to the library, or encouraging parents who do not love reading themselves to read with their children anyway. But for families like ours, where storytime is an activity as normal as bathtime, are the programs accomplishing anything?


Kelley said...

Connor, Lilly and Brendan (all non-readers at this point) are signed up for our library's summer reading program. We're big readers here, but this has been fun for us. My kids, all of them, have been asking to go to the library weekly rather than every other as is our habit so they can get new books. (Our house rule for this program is that we only count books we haven't read before and half of Connor and Lilly's books on the fill-out need to be at least "novella" length). They get token gifts for every eight books they read -- and the thing they're really excited about is the library is hosting a party for each age group. I'm not seeing it as a bad thing --- and potentially a great thing for kids who are not generally reading (or being read to).

I see your point, but also think that even if we're bribing kids to read, maybe it's better than not reading at all. After all, with no exposure, there's no chance to learn to love the habit.

Katie Alender said...

Interesting, Christy. I'm not sure where I stand. Like your kids, I was a voracious reader regardless of the pizza bribes (which my parents never let me cash in anyway). But I think programs like that might as well be in place to help the kids who wouldn't normally read. Can you opt out?

cheribear said...

I read anything that sits still long enough, and I hope my children love reading the same way.

I often share your feeling on the reading logs, etc. Reading is not as much fun for me when it becomes a chore in any way - and while I'd easily devour 10 books a month in school, I had a really hard time filling out my little report things for class to show that I'd read a book every month that year - it was always a rush in May to figure out what I read in September, October, November, etc. I want to READ, I don't want to fill out forms!

Our summer reading program doesn't have any reading logs or whatever. The kids enter a draw whenever they CHECK OUT a book. Its to bring them to the library, participate in fun and games, to have someone read to them and show them books they might like to read. I don't really have much use for the bribery style programs for my own kids but from my teaching days I can tell you they can make a huge difference for children whose parents AREN'T readers. They need something to bring them to reading, and the love of reading develops from there.

Christy said...

You know, maybe it really is just because I don't like filling out the forms. I can be pretty lazy, especially when I see something as pointless.

We did try to opt out one month. The ever so helpful assistant teacher filled out the form for us and we got a coupon anyway. lol She's so sweet that I couldn't make her do that every month.