Beep. My 8-year-old daughter sets her timer and picks up her book. Her summer reading chart from the library sits to her side, covered in stickers. Although she’s not quite certain what kind of prize she wins for reading 1,000 minutes this summer, the prize is all the motivation she needs now — to track her minutes that is. Not to read.
Quite frankly, she almost didn’t sign up for the summer reading program. You see, she lost her interest in books.
As a former teacher, this broke my book-loving heart. My daughter had no interest in checking out new authors or recommended stories. During the school year, her reading life consisted of finding the fastest and easiest books to improve her points on Accelerated Reader.
If you haven’t heard of Accelerated Reader (AR), it’s a program many schools use to encourage reading in students — it’s also evil. My opinion, but why? How can a former teacher believe that a reading program is evil? Teachers are supposed to love reading.
I saw AR encouraged reading for the wrong reasons. The program assigns every single book a recommended reading level and point value. Longer books tend to be worth more points. At the end of the book, students log on to their website and take a comprehension test. How many points they receive on the test affects how many points they receive for that book.
Perfect, right? It encourages kids to read and lets them work toward a lofty point goal — well, maybe at first, but over time the points become more important to students than the enjoyment of books. They start picking easy 0.5-point books that they can quickly take a test on and improve their point tally. That’s what my daughter did. So come summer, she had no interest in long books. All she wanted was Dork Diaries.
This happens with reading logs as well. Students no longer seek out those long, complex stories with fascinating characters that pull you in and make you forget the passing of time. Instead, their eyes keep shifting to the clock to see how many minutes they have left to read.
How many adults read like this? Do we set a timer on our nightstand and read 30 minutes a night? That would be torture! So why do we make our kids do it?
And more importantly, what can we do instead?
Getting kids to read is simple. Our one goal should be to entice them with story. That’s it. That’s all parents need to do. That’s all schools need to do.
But every child is different, and sometimes finding out what interests your child can be a long, strenuous process of trial and error.
So what can you do? If your child dreads reading, start with a book you know they like. My daughter loves the Princess in Black series by Shannon Hale, so I searched for more of Hale’s books. As I scrolled through the library catalog, one title caught my eye — Princess Academy. I grabbed it off the shelf and pushed it under my daughter’s nose.
With tweens, this is a very delicate maneuver. You can’t seem too forceful. You know that if your child thinks you are forcing them to read a particular book, they will 100% stubbornly refuse.
Instead, you go for a nonchalant: “Hey, this looks pretty good. What do you think?” Your stomach is doing flips — you know your daughter will like this, now to get her to see that.
“Eh…” she says, “I’m not interested in that book.”
How can you not be interested? You haven’t even looked at it! Do you even know the title?
You want to scream, but no, you’re a master and you play it cool.
“Oh…well, maybe just read the back cover and see if it sounds good,” you reply instead. She reads. She keeps reading. Yes, you think. You got her. She opens up to the first page.
Victory! You fight the urge to do the touchdown dance. But instead, you ask, “Do you want to try that book then?”
“Yeah, I guess,” your child replies.
Suddenly, she is reading every night after dinner. She’s not watching the time. In fact, she has a minor freak-out when she doesn’t know how long she’s read. How will she get her summer reading prize?!
That’s when you know you won, and you beat the reading log.