How do you really feel about rewarding children for reading?

Darcel - posted on 07/20/2010 ( 8 moms have responded )

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I am a librarian for a public library. Most libraries in the USA have a Summer Reading Program where we offer donated incentives and rewards for completing reading goals.

As a librarian whose goal is to encourage the reluctant reader and his family to participate, I can give plenty of evidence that the reading rewards do work, but only to a point. A child may participate to earn the rewards, but does not always find a joy/love of reading. Some children will not read or participate in the program no matter what we do, and on the other end of the spectrum, we have some "prize hustler" familes who try and take advantage of the program breaking rules and attempting to collect multiple prizes.

Today a parent emailed my library to complain that she didn't feel as though her childs prizes where worthy of the reading she accomplished, thus her childs reading was a complete waste of time!

At this point I am really fed-up. My libraries summer reading commitee spent countless hours courting businesses requesting that they provide us with FREE (as in donate) materials to give to our Summer Reading Partipants. The library does not charge anyone to participate in the program. Everyone participates knowing in advance what the rewards will be. So to hear someone complain, I wonder what is the whole point of all of this? Should we even offer the rewards?

Sometimes I think that my library should toss the rewards aspect of the summer reading program and insist that reading is its own reward. Just like earning an "A" on your report card should be a reward within itself. But then I know if we do this, we will not have a carrot to dangle infront of the reluctant readers, in hopes that they might develop a joy/love of reading.

Okay now that I have vented, any thoughts?

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8 Comments

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Alisha - posted on 07/22/2010

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Also, my libraries summer reading program prizes are dollar store items and the kids love them!

Alisha - posted on 07/22/2010

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Yes I think you should offer rewards for those who appreciate it! People will always complain and beggars will feel they can be choosers! Tell those parents that reading isn't a waste of time and that free is free! Summer reading programs are usually for grade schoolers and they love any prizes, how can parents be disappointed in the prizes seriously? What do they expect, a free yacht? If I were you I would ask for suggestions on how you could improve the program to meet everyones needs and if people have extravagant ideas ask them if they would like to help in raising money for those ideas to happen. If they say no say ok then you don't know how it will be accomplished. If you lose a few crabby parents then so be it. Don't get angry or frustrated, just try to work with them but be aware you can't please everyone. Also, you could try to talk to other librarians who also have summer reading programs and see what they do with that.

Darcel - posted on 07/21/2010

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I can tell by these quick responses that everyone understands my frustration. For that I am thankful. ANd you all are right. Reading is its own reward and modest incentives are nothing to be ashamed of!

The library I work for does not provide extravagant prizes or anything expensive. Just a small something to say "keep up the good work youngster!" For example our 1/2 way prize (7 1/2 hours of reading) the child gets a sticker and a free pass to an educational science center (parent must pay for admission but the child is free.) One pass is a $5.00 value, but when this pass is multiplied by several million families within 26 cities in my county, this is a big donation for the non-profit orginization to make. ANd for that one parent who was not appreciative there are several who where happy to have a good excuse to take a day off work and spend time with there children using this free pass.

Thank you all!

Karen - posted on 07/21/2010

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I can't believe a parent had the gall to complain to you! I think our library gives out medals of completion at the end - and that's it. I don't think anything else is required.
As far as rewards in general ... I'm not for the idea. I want my daughter to be interested in reading (for example) for it's own sake. There is tons of evidence that as soon as you offer some sort of reward the child's enjoyment of the activity decreases.
Mandi - I think if the most happy/satisfied people in the world do a job they love for it's own sake and are generally not motivated by the paycheque. My sister-in-law is a midwife in the 3rd world - she actually has to raise her own $$ to live on - and she is passionate about her work! So, yes of course rewards are motivating (as you said, people work to get a paycheque), but I just don't think it's the best motivator. How much happier/healthier/more fulfilled would our kids be if the did things because the were internally motivated to do them.

Mandi - posted on 07/21/2010

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Personally I really enjoyed participating in the reading programs sponsored by our school and our library when I was younger, but then I also loved to read (and still do). I am surprised at the gall the parent had to complain about the prizes and I don't blame you for being frustrated, especially when they knew the prizes in advance. I might would have told thanks for volunteering to be next year's prize coordinator for the program in my reply, but that's just me and the way I often deal with people who complain about something I do but don't offer to help.

As far as the program and rewarding the kids, while the program is very worthy in and of itself, many of the kids will read only to get the prizes. You will have a few, like me, who may want to "win" or read the most books. I would encourage you to keep the program and remember that this parent only represents one person out of everyone else who participated.

I don't know what other events your library offers but ours has a cake decorating contest every summer where the cake has to be based on a book and everything has to be edible. I can't wait until my daughter is old enough to participate because it's really neat too! I don't even know that there are prizes for that at all but there is a lot of participation regardless.

As far as not offering rewards, I think most working adults will agree that our reward for our hard work is our paycheck and I doubt that many of us would be at our jobs if we didn't get one.

Victoria - posted on 07/21/2010

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I think that you have to wonder if the complaint is from the childs level or just a parent wanting something to complain about.

I all ways encourage my children to read and not because they get stickers for so many pages at school and so many stickers results in a prize, but reading is important, it teaches us things, it gives us new things to explore in our imagination, it gives us things to talk about at the supper table. I wouldn't concern yourself with somebody who is unappreciative, if their child went ahead knowing what the prize was & still did the reading, chances are that they are developing a true love for reading. Train a child up in the way they should go & when they are old they will not depart from it. This is said of spiritual things as well as earthly things.

My step kids never really liked ready, but as kids their mum never had time to read to them & their dad worked all the time. With my kids we've been reading to them since they we infants, both my husband and I and if we weren't able when my step kids lived at home we'd encourage them to read to the girls. Now all three love books, even my 4 year old who is only just starting out to read. My 6 year old was top of her SK class for reading & my oldest who is 8 was a top reader at an early age too. I believe we are training them up in the way they should go & I am already seeing the fruit of it.

Keep up the good work, for every complainer there is many more who are loving the program.

Heather - posted on 07/21/2010

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I personally don't care for reward programs. I believe that they teach our children to do things not because they are good for them, need to be done, or because they are enjoyable, but because they are profitable. I think they are very worldly in principle and assist in developing an attitude of greed. As in the parent you spoke of. The prize wasn't worth of her child's reading... Do you see where I'm going? Now after saying that, I don't think that if a parent uses a reward program they are a bad parent or anything like that. Please don't take it that way. We have used small rewards in situations like potty training, however, I really don't think it helped...

Colossians 3:23
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,

Hannah - posted on 07/20/2010

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I think if the library responds to such parental complaints as you have responded here, it should provoke the parent to think differently and thus encourage the child to read more. Also, one must keep in mind the educational level of the parent complaining. If reading is not a love for the parent, no doubt they won't encourage the child to read. The library should also include literature to the parent/child how rewarding reading can be.

Personally, I think children should read more in place of TV watching...OMG, I'm so tired of children sitting in front of the 'idiot tube' I call it.

Just a thought.

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