Influence Pedaling–It’s a Time Thing

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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.

Father and son reading book

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.

Father talking to Daughter While Working

Father talking to Daughter While Working

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.

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4 Responses to “Influence Pedaling–It’s a Time Thing”

  1. Linda Stallman Gibson August 5, 2016 at 9:08 am #

    Nicely done! Bravos. I saw the same article and was intrigued. (see my blog page Poetic license allowed me to merge bribery with using parent–or in my case grandmother–love as the influence. The “gift” is the same as the one you outline. It is “time” and the delight and willingness to share much more of it with our children. Thanks for your tips and notes.

    • Mark Condon August 6, 2016 at 9:21 am #

      I enjoyed your blog, Linda! Thanks for sharing. I love your concept of Story Nerve.

  2. Michael Maloney August 9, 2016 at 8:57 am #

    I’ve been at this a while (50 years), teaching kids at risk of school failure. I use rewards appropriately, judiciously and methodically to build the bridges learners need until they can read successfully. Here is a video of some foster kids who were essentially illiterate and what they were able to learn in 32 instructional hours. This is the simple application of good science brought to bear on a persistent problem.

    • Mark Condon August 9, 2016 at 10:33 am #

      Thanks for sharing, Michael. I’m with you. Whatever it takes for kids needing special attention whom we have let fall through the cracks. Your word and letter technique can evidently help children who had never gotten letter-sound relationships. It wasn’t clear from your contribution, but I hope that this training occurs within a context rich with delightful read alouds and kid-appealing books for their free reading choices. They have to envision themselves enjoying a next book. Kids who CAN read but then don’t choose to aren’t much better off than kids who can’t read at all.