Rewards for reading: Do they work? What’s the best way to implement them?
Is it ok to reward, or, as KJ Dell’Antonia said in the New York Times “bribe” your kids to read? I personally cringe when I hear about sticker charts and the promise of LOL Dolls after five more books. Before I sat down to write this blog, I would have said, “Absolutely not! It is NOT ok to reward reading. Reading is the reward!”. I still believe that reading is the reward, but I’m not so quick to write off external rewards after researching this blog. I realize now that there is a better way than LOL Dolls and Pokemon cards. I’ll share this better (in my opinion) reward system and how you can make it work for your child.
Before setting up any system to reward reading, it’s important to identify WHY you want to reward your child to read. What is the goal? This is really going to matter if you want your system to be effective.
Is it to practice reading, and if so, what is your child’s reading level? What kind of practice would be most useful and appropriate for your child?
Is it to develop the habit of reading?
Is it to get your child to explore new books, authors, and genres?
If you have an early reader who needs to practice specific phonics skills so that they can learn how to read fluently, a reward system to get them to read more is going to fail. You would be doing them a greater service by reading with them and coaching them on the skills they need to learn. We can practice and practice any skill but if we don’t know what to practice we won’t get any better at it. For example, I’m no good at tennis. Practicing all day without the direction and support of a coach will not help me get better. I need guidance so I know what and how to practice. It’s the same with early readers who have not achieved fluency yet.
If your child is a fluent reader and you want to help them build the habit of daily reading, or motivate them to explore different books, genres, and authors, a reward system could work. I’m not recommending the Pokemon/LOL system, although it could work if implemented correctly. There are rewards you can use that actually build a culture of reading in your home and in your child’s relationship with books and reading. These rewards work for early readers as well. I’ll give you some suggestions at the end of this blog.
For now, let me say again that reading is a reward in itself. For our early readers just building fluency, learning how to read is incredibly motivating because it builds a sense of self-efficacy: When children are good at something, they are motivated to do it. Instruction that develops students’ word-reading competence increases their motivation to read. (Ontario Ministry of Education, Effective Early Reading Instruction: A Guide for Teachers, 2022). Teaching your child to read is going to be more effective, and possibly even more motivating, than the promise of external rewards. Simply knowing how to read is often all the motivation children need to get excited about reading.
What are some rewards that promote a love of reading beyond toys, money, more screen time, and the other usual currencies of parent reward systems?
This is a simple and beautiful strategy from Lindsay Gambrell and Barbara Marinak in their article, Simple Practices to Nurture the Motivation to Read from Reading Rockets. Take a book you would like your child to read and place it upright, as if on display, in a special place. Let your child discover the book in its special place and ask you about it. This gives you the opportunity to enthusiastically introduce the book to your child so that your child may decide on their own to read it. No money, no LOLs, no Pokemon, no bribes. Simply appeal to your child’s natural curiosity.
Book Stores and Libraries:
Take a special trip to the bookstore or library and buy or borrow a book. Tell your child that you’ll go back for more when they’ve finished reading that book. Full disclosure: This worked like a charm for me as a kid, but my own child will have nothing to do with it. She does not get excited about bookstores or libraries. Like all of the strategies I’m sharing with you, they will work for some kids and not others.
Make it Social:
Get a few friends together to form a book club! For kids who love to be social this strategy can work wonders. Meet regularly and discuss the book, do crafts around the themes in the book, and plan activities around themes in the book. For example, if you are reading Ruby Flips for Attention, by Derrick Barnes, you could have the book club create their own cheerleading routine and present it to the parents!
If your child is a fluent reader and just needs to build the habit of reading daily or expand their reading repertoire, and they will truly be motivated by LOLs, Pokemon, money, etc. then you may need to use a traditional parent reward system like this. I hope this article gives you some fresh ideas so you don’t feel like toys and money are the only way to motivate your child to read! Maybe one of these strategies will click for your child and together, you can build a new relationship with reading.
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