Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Summer Reading Clubs are Bad? WHAT??

So… I found this article this  morning, Why My Children Do Not Participate in Summer Reading Competitions (It’s a free downloadable article, but I think it’s only available until today). Since we just wrapped up our highly enjoyable SRC, in which we participated fully and absolutely adored, you can see how this might have piqued my interest, yes?

I’m all for differing opinions, but the suggestion in this article is not merely that the mom in question doesn’t like them or chooses not to participate – she suggests that enrolling your child in reading clubs like the SRC’s could be damaging… Well, of course, anytime someone suggests that what I choose to do with my children might damage them, I’m interested in exploring their assertions more fully.

One of the things I came away with is that some of the opinions that the author expresses are apparently based on the assumption that the child is the only one involved in the SRC, and if that is the case, then I do kinda agree with her. If the SRC is the only avenue that the child experiences encouragement to read in, then the potential for the child to focus on the reward and not the book content is there. On the other hand, many SRCs are set up because of the fact that it truly may be the only exposure to encouragement in reading that some children have.

If the child is not being encouraged to read at home, then participation in the SRC may ultimately serve to help that child develop a love of reading. Even if they focus on the reward at first, the chance that at some point they’ll stumble on a book that really grabs them is high. For a lot of kids, myself included, regardless of the home environment and attitude towards reading, reading is a chore. It wasn’t until I was in 5th grade and came across the Nancy Drew series of books that I fell in love with reading as a hobby – and I was reading ‘well’ in the 1st grade. Until I found Nancy Drew, I LOATHED reading – and I come from an extremely pro-reading childhood home.

‘Holding a prize in front of a child or setting a deadline may distract the child from taking adequate time to comprehend the material, enjoy it, or improve reading skills.’

This statement seems to assume that the children are reading on their own, and that no parent is going back over what they’ve read with them. That simple step can avoid her whole point here. Right now, my kids don’t always enjoy reading. They enjoy the things that they choose to read, but we do have some stories or chapters that are assigned to them to read that works in conjunction with another assignment or project. If an incentive will help them get through the assignment, then I am all for it. As far as comprehension goes, my kids are not reading and then left to understand or not on their own. I’m right there with them, reading along with them or going back over the material with them. I don’t think that there’s a single book that my kids have read that me or my husband have not been interested in enough to discuss it with them.

As for enjoyment … well, I don’t think that all reading is supposed to be ‘enjoyable’. Sometimes, you read something because you need to know information that is contained in the text. Sometimes, you read in order to get where you’re going with a minimal amount of distraction. Sometimes you read so that you’re not agreeing to something you didn’t intend. Teaching kids that reading is always enjoyable, or only to be enjoyed is the wrong message. Now, granted, when you’re talking about new readers you do want them to have a certain enjoyment in it, but I can tell you from my experience, had I not been required to check out at least 2 books from the library I never would have found Nancy Drew. Had I not been required to write a book report, I never would have actually sat down and read the book. The only reason I ever even opened it was because of the deadline and threat of  a bad grade over my head. So again, what the author of the article says about reading for enjoyment, I disagree with.

On reading to improve reading skills… I tend to think that any reading is going to work to improve your child’s reading skills, but especially books that they choose. Reading clubs encourage your child to pick books – books of their own choosing – to read. Presumably, your child will pick books that appeal to him, but even if he’s being a turkey and just grabbing 2 off the shelf, he might find accidentally grab something that he’ll enjoy.

PeaGreen isn’t a terribly proficient reader, but he found lots of books that he wanted to rad for the SRC. LittleBoyBlue is a really good reader, but he’s the one who just grabs 2 to fulfill Mom’s requirement. It wasn’t until we stumbled upon the non-fiction books about wounds and first aid (with photographs of real injuries) that his interest was piqued. In both cases, the books that they read did serve to encourage them to read more, which by default will improve their reading skills.

‘Worst of all, if the child does not fulfill the full requirement to earn the prize, he or she may feel like a failure, associate it with reading, and avoid reading in the future.’

At the risk of being snarky, I think that’s a big stretch. I think that a child’s perception of success, especially a young child, has a LOT to do with the parent’s assessment and view of the situation. Any parent worth her salt can help a child re-think his view of a situation, even a ‘chronically inflexible’ child like mine. I have yet to see a SRC’s minimum for completion be something that is terribly challenging to achieve. If, as a parent, I know my child has this goal, wouldn’t I do everything I can to help him reach it? All the clubs I know of just had a number of books that a child must read in order to complete it. Our library’s number was 20. Over the course of 2 months. Hardly unattainable, right?

In light of that, if my child can’t reach that goal, then the first person I’m looking at to find out why is, frankly, Mom. What was I doing in all this time that prevented me from helping my kid reach this goal? And even if something happened this summer and we just really could not focus on something as frivolous as a reading club, then I would venture to say that as a parent, it’s my job to help my child understand that sometimes life simply gets in the way of the fun things we want to do. Explain that next summer will be here soon enough and we can try again, and try to come up with something that we can do to in the meantime to help him reach that goal (like a bedtime reading boot camp, or keep books in the car and read on the road…). We can’t always have what we want, and we have to learn to be adaptable.

Aside from that, we’re not always going to win. I think that avoiding competition in order to ‘protect’ my child from feeling like a failure is an erroneous strategy. A child doesn’t feel like a failure because he didn’t win or didn’t reach a goal. He feels like a failure because the people around him aren’t supportive. If my child didn’t succeed this time, then I think it’s my job as his parent to help him put that into perspective and help him set new goals. Whatever happened to ‘winning isn’t everything’? Participation and having fun are just as important, and if it truly is a competition, then learning how to lose gracefully is just as important a lesson to learn (perhaps more important, since there is usually only one winner – odds are that you’ll lose in life more than you’ll win).

The other point that the author brings up is the much debated issue of ‘payment for good grades’. When my kids were in school, we often combated the dreaded “I don’t wanna get dressed and go to school” complaint with, “Well Dad doesn’t want to go to work every day either, but he has to and so do you. School is your job, just like work is Daddy’s and keeping the house up is Mommy’s”. Well, leave it to my incredibly clever LittleBoyBlue to retort immediately with, “Well Daddy gets paid to do his job. We don’t get paid to go to school.” o_O

So yeah. We devised a plan reminiscent of real life whereby doing your job well nets you a reward (income). Doing it poorly results in consequence (loss of income). Then we decided that school was annoying and decided to homeschool, which pretty much makes the issue of ‘grades’ moot (though we do actually keep ‘grades’ – but it’s not quite the same as in school because we’re not on a schedule that pushes through to the next thing regardless of comprehension.)

I do agree with this wholeheartedly:

We learn best what interests us and what is enjoyable to learn…. Grades are punitive in and of themselves as they judge and rank our children.

… and with her other points on grading as a system of assessment in institutionalized educational settings. Homeschooling is an entirely different bag-of-yarn*. I agree that offering a reward or incentive of cash for A’s may not work for every kid, but it’s also not always the big, horrible, always-negative thing that the author seems to be making it out to be. Like so many things in parenting, I think it’s going to be an individual kid, individual family type thing. What works for me may not work for you – but that doesn’t make either one of us inherently wrong. It just makes us different.



* for my loverly husband, who was trying to think of ‘ball of wax’ this morning and came out with ‘bag of yarn’ {wink}


4 responses

  1. Jana C

    Bravo !! Well said.

    August 17, 2010 at 3:10 pm

  2. Thanks, Jana! 🙂

    August 17, 2010 at 6:24 pm

  3. I totally struggle with all this stuff.

    When Alfie Kohn wrote Punished by Rewards more than a decade ago, I think he actually singled out the Pizza Hut reading program (Book It? Something like that…) so this doesn’t surprise me one bit. I do feel like he has a point about it being important to think through how rewards can cheat kids of learning to appreciate the intrinsic value of things or the intrinsic rewards of things. After all, reading should be its own reward. So when I give rewards, I try to remember that and challenge myself on it. Also, I’m kind of against the whole payment for grades thing, but that’s in part because the data I’ve seen doesn’t show that it works, so way to waste my tax dollars, Michelle Rhee.

    But some people blow this stuff WAY, WAY out of proportion as if every “good job” sticker a kid ever gets will RUIN LITTLE TIMMY’S LOVE OF LEARNING FOREVER! Puh-lease. My kids also did the library’s summer reading program and got faux Hawaiian leis and weird alien-themed beach balls out of it. They got to set their own goals and get a prize whenever they met them. It helped them do reading over the summer (apparently they really *like* the weird beach balls) and the whole thing was pretty small scale so I say, great.

    August 17, 2010 at 9:34 pm

  4. I’m going to have to look and see if our library has that book. I think people get mixed up when they start applying strategies that can work well in a one-on-one (or small group) to a large scale, institutionalized setting. Any teaching method that works with one or two kids would need to be adapted with a classroom of 20 kids – and the individual attention just isn’t there to keep those strategies in the proper context.

    I think that in order to the classroom to work ‘properly’ the parents really have to spend several hours at home working with their kids a lot of the time – and we just don’t have the time to do that. They spend 8 hours a day in class – and parents just trust that the educational system is functioning as it should and that their kids are learning as they should… As I think we’ve all seen and said, it’s a broken system. Getting an awesome beach ball is the least of our worries 😉
    Thanks for weighing in, Farra! Always a pleasure 🙂

    August 17, 2010 at 9:47 pm

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