Recently, a headline snatched my attention and stirred my ire. It read, “The Right Way to Bribe Your Kids to Read.” I was livid, immediately ticking off to myself all of the reasons why bribery and the buying of influence was always a bad thing! I dove into the article, pen in hand, ready to dash off a withering critique of this disastrously ill-conceived idea.
Moments later after finishing the article, I felt humbled by my own lack of openness to good ideas which were artfully composed. As it turned out, I concluded K.J. Dell’Antonia’s article, published in the New York Times, was an absolutely excellent one to share with all teachers and parents who are legitimately interested in supporting their children’s literacy 12 months out of each year.
I read with increasing interest the sometimes clever ways adults attempt to keep children reading throughout the school year, especially across the vast literacy wasteland of summer. Parents, teachers and even libraries dole out prizes for number of minutes, number of pages or number of books read. They all use things kids want to influence their reading habits.
But data from interviews, research citations and compelling anecdotes Dell’Antonia shared in the article say that paying for influence is ineffective as a strategy to get and keep kids reading, especially in the long run.
There’s one exception, however. There is one thing adults can spend to influence children to read—or to do anything else, I imagine. It is the one thing they most want and need from us.
Spend time going to the library together, exploring a book store or checking out the book rack at a local grocery or drugstore.
Spend time asking kids questions that you can’t possibly know the answer to, like “What in this book makes you stop and think?”
Spend time talking with them about choices that were presented to and made by characters or individuals that they admire or don’t care for.
Spend time talking with them about personal memories invoked for both of you by a book you read together.
Spend time conversing with them about events in the book that remind them of their life.
Spend time sharing with them about how characters in the book remind them of family members, friends and neighbors.
Spending time with children around books is much harder than dropping a prize in their hand, but the payoff in mental growth and family closeness is huge.
When we put everything else down, turn everything off, sit face to face in a comfortable and cozy place and merely spend time with kids casually reading and talking about what we read, magic happens.
So, we need to go deep. Invest our time…and theirs.