Yesterday we ventured to our local farmer’s market as we do every Wednesday to grab some dinner…and the occasional maple bacon donut (good lord these are good-if you are local to South Jersey, these beauties are from Farm and Fisherman). With food in tow, we ended up sitting next to the public library’s info table. I love that the library has a table at the farmer’s market. As we ate, the woman working the booth approached the table and asked if we were members. Of course we are, and we go to the library weekly. Awesome.
She handed me their list of summer programming for kids and then…
“are you part of our reading for rewards program?”
oh no. I have super strong feelings about reading for rewards folks. And they are not good feelings. Not wanting to stir the pot while we ate dinner, I took the sheet that promised my son a variety of silly rewards for each “milestone.” Read: large amount of books he could read by a certain time.
“1,000 books before kindergarten. Then they can be recognized!”
and my smart ass, “recognized by who?”
“well, the library.”
“oh.” I stopped myself. I really did! It was hard.
While I LOVE the library and I love the idea of kids everywhere reading millions of books, I have a big problems with the idea of reading for rewards. Here’s some of them:
I truly believe that when you present reading to kids in this competitive, finish line, get your sticker way, you are embedding in young people that the value of reading lies outside of the actual experience of reading. It does not. As all of us who love to read know, the rewards for reading a good book far surpass a gold star, toy, or recognition that you have completed said book. Confession time: when I finish something by Proust I do crack a bottle of wine and celebrate myself, because dang, those are long and difficult, but I digress…
These programs also glorify quantity over quality. No bueno. Some months I read one AMAZING book. and I don’t want to read anything else. I want to ruminate on that experience- journal it, think on it, live with it- before I move onto the next book. Some months I read a really BAD book and I sit with that, sadly. Wondering who the heck let that go to publishing. Some months I read a whole bunch of books-whole books, half books. It depends. I believe young people should have the same experiences. My son often reads the same book for weeks straight. Some times he reads something once loves it- or doesn’t- and moves on.
If we want our young people to truly love reading, for the sheer pleasure and passion of reading, if we want them to come to us when they are young, book in hand, saying “will you read this to me?” randomly, in the middle of the afternoon, we need to stop pressuring them with programs like these. Take then to the library, ask them what they would like to look for today, show them the sections where things they are interested in are located. Bring books, books, and more books into our homes. Sprinkle books everywhere-leave them in every room, take them outside with you, leave them in the car. Read yourself and let them see you- for pleasure, for a recipe, for directions, for inspiration, for information.
Like so many other things in life we don’t need to shove the value of reading down our young people’s throats. Just live the love of books, they will see it, they will WANT it-if that’s is going to be there thing. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but in their own time, in their own way, they will read what they want, how often they want, because they want to and that will be reward enough ( I once awoke to the horror that my children might not grow up to be book fanatics. After the cold sweats were over I realized it’s ok-not everyone would spend every waking minute reading if they could. I guess…who are these people? Just kidding.)
Solutions? I love the idea of library’s designing more programs for kids that help them delve into their own personal interests using books and library resources. But more on that at another time.
Have a great Thursday, and happy reading (or not- it’s your choice 😉