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Rewards for Reading

A couple of months ago, a reading rewards program came home from school. Your child reads some books, writes them down and he gets a ticket to a baseball game, where the kids will be honored with a parade on the field.

It seemed easy enough and our son was excited about it -- and about reading the books. So what's the harm? Sure we have to buy tickets for the rest of us, but we like to attend cheap, local baseball every so often anyway. And so, we played ball. He read the books and we turned in the bookmark. Later this month, he'll get to parade around the field. Then, last month, a different baseball incentive reading program arrived, this time for the team closer to our house. Wish we'd known about this one before committing to the first, husband and I said. This time, the teacher's documenting the read books for a ticket.

Given how successful the baseball trick was, we adopted our own reading reward program for our previously reluctant reader. The deal: Read a certain number of books to watch a greatly desired movie. In this case, 10 books for "The Empire Strikes Back." Six-year-old finished that over spring break and is now working on a self-inflicted 20 books for "Return of the Jedi."

Reading incentives are nothing new. Last year, Pizza Hut came under fire for its 22-year-old pizza for a book program. Our local library gives weekly rewards to kids who read during the summer.

And as with anything these programs have their naysayers. There are those that say pizza or other food rewards for books encourages unhealthy eating habits. I've heard neighborhood parents argue that kids should read for the love of books, that once the incentives are done, they won't pick up a book. Or that the baseball programs are really only out to make a buck. If that weren't the case, they say, the baseball teams would give kids two tickets -- one for the child and one for a parent.

So far, for us, the positives of rewards outweigh the negatives. Do you embrace rewards programs or dislike them?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 3, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers
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Comments


My daughter's preschool is participating in the pizza hut book thing. Since the kids can't read themselves, it counts if you read to them. But she came home with a coupon for a free personal pan pizza. Unfortunately my daughter doesn't like pizza. So I gave the coupon to another child. But I really see nothing wrong with it. It was good for a month and it isn't like we wouldn't eat pizza one night in a month. If my daughter actually liked pizza, I would have no trouble taking her and the whole family for a pizza dinner once a month. Unless your some sort of health food obessed family, I think one pizza a month is no big deal. Unlike the baseball ticket, you could go to PH and order one personal pan pizza to go. So no additional cost. But since my kid doesn't like pizza, the baseball ticket would have been more fun for us.

Posted by: foamgnome | April 3, 2008 7:17 AM | Report abuse

"Or that the baseball programs are really only out to make a buck. If that weren't the case, they say, the baseball teams would give kids two tickets -- one for the child and one for a parent."

Are you aware that there are families that can't afford the additional ticket?

Posted by: Jake | April 3, 2008 8:06 AM | Report abuse

I really like the reading incentive programs because they give a different group of kids the chance to excel. I have a child who is definitely NOT an athlete, but he excelled in our school's reading program -- and it was probably the only time he will receive a trophy or be recognized by his classmates in a positive way or have the principal actually learn his name.

In contrast, all the middle school teachers know the names of all the football players and there's a great deal of hand slapping and high fiving after the big game.

I'm wary of the people who are quick to jump on any kind of academic recognition program -- and I suspect the objection to junk food is just a ruse in most cases. The actual objection is more likely to any kind of program which actually measures academic prowess and ranks kids and puts up their pictures on the wall. I wonder if the people opposed to reading programs aren't also the people opposed to the valedictorian/salutatorian speeches, the honor roll and so forth. (In other words, if Johny can't win this competition then we need to cancel it and decide it's invalid to have kids competing in this arena.)

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2008 8:07 AM | Report abuse

We were always big fans of the reading-rewards programs. I see nothing wrong with pizza once a month. Although we prefer Ledo's to Pizza Hut, it doesn't hurt to go get the free pizza and the kid is proud and happy. "Unhealthy eating" is only a problem if the kid (and you as the parent) aren't eating a healthy, balanced diet; if you are, one personal pan pizza won't spoil it.

As for those who say when the rewards end the reading ends, that's contradicted by our experiences. By the time the rewards end, reading has become a habit and the child will continue with books he/she likes.

We've never participated in a "baseball ticket for reading" thing, but yes, baseball teams' primary motivation is to put fannies in seats, and if they can do that by giving a free ticket to a reader and thus "contribute to the community", so much the better. My kids' school chorus has sung the National Anthem over the years at Orioles' games, Nationals' games, Frederick Keys' games, and Bowie BaySox games. Think that the baseball team gives free tickets to family members to watch/hear your little one sing? Think again. They know that if they invite the J. Edgar Hoover Elementary School Chorus to sing the National Anthem, JEHES will probably buy a block of anywhere from 250-500 tickets to the game to cover all the families, teachers, etc. who want to be there to see the event.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | April 3, 2008 8:11 AM | Report abuse

"They know that if they invite the J. Edgar Hoover Elementary School Chorus to sing the National Anthem, JEHES will probably buy a block of anywhere from 250-500 tickets to the game to cover all the families, teachers, etc. who want to be there to see the event. '

A classic example of elitism marketing.

Posted by: Jake | April 3, 2008 8:15 AM | Report abuse

From my own experience, reading incentive programs lessened my interest in reading as I became older. It wasn't so much the programs themselves, but how teachers used them. Often they were manipulated to be less like incentive programs, and more like competitions. A few off the top of my head are "read this many books to get this many points toward your grade", "be the top reader in the class and get this", etc., etc. I did well, and was always among the top readers, but I still never understood why reading should be a competition. At this point, reading became more of a chore than a love for me.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2008 8:19 AM | Report abuse

The last commenter hit upon why (as a former teacher and as a parent) I am wary of incentive/reward programs. Alfie Kohn's written on this topic (Punished By Rewards) and essentially argues that providing external motivation for something (whether it's positive or negative) strips away one's intrinsic motivation, be it love of reading or working to please your own internal standards. Impractical to always appeal to intrinsic motivation, imho, and also, some temperaments just *are* externally motivated. As with most things, whatever works for your child... and with reading I am definitely of the 'make it fun' mindset - whatever that takes for your kid.

Posted by: MamaBird | April 3, 2008 8:35 AM | Report abuse

What? Pizza Hut is giving out coupons to kids that claim to read books? If that isn't a cheesy marketing gimmick, I don't know what could top it! (Besides pepperoni, anchovies and mushrooms of course)

Seriously though, the bestest reward for a child that reads a book should be, well, another book. My kids have my permission to stay up as late as they want as long as they are in bed and reading a book. It makes it easy to send them to bed and then the effort it takes to read makes them sleepy.

Posted by: DandyLion | April 3, 2008 8:36 AM | Report abuse

I used to participate in these (many public libraries at least used to have a summer reading program too), but then I was also a reader to begin with, so why not reap some external reward for doing something I'd do anyway?

My mom and I used to go to redeem the coupon for my personal pizza and it was time for my mom and I to hang out one-on-one, too, which was also really nice. Free pizza was more or less gravy for me; for some people it was probably their motivation but if that's what it takes to get kids to look at reading and encourages them to do so, so be it.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2008 8:45 AM | Report abuse

My daughter's too little to participate in any reading programs yet, so I can't speak from personal experience as a parent. But I remember loving reading programs when I was a kid. For a shy kid who loved to read, it was good motivation actually to talk to the librarian (who I idolized) and to find new books.

However, I don't remember there ever being any awards for reading when I was a kid. The most you'd end up with was the longest "bookworm" on the classroom wall (with a body segment for every book you read). Frankly, that was enough for me.

Posted by: NewSAHM | April 3, 2008 8:45 AM | Report abuse

My daughter's school does the Pizza Hut thing, but she thinks it is unfair that you have to give up the "bookmark" in order to get a pizza, so she doesn't want to use her coupons--which is actually fine with me since I don't really like PH pizza.

But my kids don't need an incentive to read.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2008 8:48 AM | Report abuse

My kids love the pizza program. Our 7 yo doesn't need any incentives but enjoys the reward anyway. For the 5 yo it's a big motivator.

I like taking them out for pizza, so I think it's a great little program.

Posted by: ViennaDad | April 3, 2008 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Jake: huh? "Elitism marketing?" How about just "marketing"? Baseball teams are companies, trying to turn a profit. They do that in a number of ways: getting people to buy tickets; getting people to come to the stadium and pay parking fees; getting people to come to the stadium and buy over-priced concessions and souvenirs; selling advertising in the stadium; selling rights to broadcast the game on radio and TV; licensing reproduction shirts & caps; etc. etc. etc. How is one strategy (getting a school to buy a large block of tickets) more "elitist) than any other strategy? After all, the person who can't afford to buy a ticket to the game almost certainly can't afford to buy the officially-licensed replica jersey or hat; and almost certainly can't afford to buy the over-priced drinks and food at the game. What's the difference?

Posted by: Army Brat | April 3, 2008 8:50 AM | Report abuse

What happened to the On Balance blog?

Posted by: sharon | April 3, 2008 8:53 AM | Report abuse

DandyLion: "I don't know what could top it! (Besides pepperoni, anchovies and mushrooms of course)"

I will say this once, slowly and clearly so that everybody understands it: Keep. The. Dead. Fish. Away. From. My. Pizza. Got it?

Those little salt sticks are pervasive; get them anywhere near a pizza and they crowd out all other tastes.

Pepperoni? Check. Mushrooms? Check. Sausage, Onions, Green Peppers, extra veggies? All Check.

Dead little aquatic salt sticks? Over my dead body. :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | April 3, 2008 8:54 AM | Report abuse

We participate in all those incentive programs - my 10 yr old reads all the time, so he racks up the books read list pretty quickly. My 7 yr old like to read, but on her own terms, so this month she didn't get the pizza coupon, but she's fine with that.

I'm not sure that the incentives encourage the not so avid readers, though. Some of my kids friends rarely participate in the programs - they just don't think it's worth it.

Posted by: prarie dog | April 3, 2008 8:54 AM | Report abuse

I have no problem with incentives for reading. Reading for pleasure and knowledge tremendously enriches my life every day, and is it's own reward, but not everyone feels that way. Nothing wrong with a little encouragement.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 3, 2008 8:58 AM | Report abuse

They also like the library's summer reading program. There are little prizes lile pencils or cards as they reach each reading goal, and then at the end, they get excited to see their name in the local paper.

Posted by: prarie dog | April 3, 2008 8:59 AM | Report abuse

We were always readers, I don't remember any of these programs at all. We just always read.

My mom was a book hound, always reading. Dad would watch TV, mom would be reading. So I guess we all got that from her (not that I read anything these days but this old house).

Dandylion: my sister used to get in trouble - we were allowed to stay up 1/2 an hour more if we were reading. Then my parents would make sure we turned out the lights. And so my sister would - but the bathroom light was on, so she would go in there to read. So she got in trouble for not going to sleep. I don't know if my parents actually PUNISHED her for it - but we keep telling that story, oh so many years later...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | April 3, 2008 9:05 AM | Report abuse

Sharon: "What happened to the On Balance blog?"

Brian happened to it.

(I'm sorry; that was a really cheap shot but I just couldn't help myself. Bad ArmyBrat. Bad, bad, bad ArmyBrat.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | April 3, 2008 9:09 AM | Report abuse

I disagree with those who don't care for reading incentive programs. Some kids will read with no incentive - yeah! Others need a push. You have to do a certain amount of it to gain critical mass on the skill level. If a baseball game or a pizza or a movie does that then that's good.

I think programs where a pre-reader gets rewards for books read with Mom or Dad are great. The child associates a story and time spent with a loving parent with reading.

I think I've posted here that our high school English teacher had a list of novels with high SAT word content. One son had already read most of the books, so no program for him. The other needed a little nudge. He did make it through "Gone with the Wind", and I think that's about all he'll even know about the Civil War.

Posted by: RoseG | April 3, 2008 9:33 AM | Report abuse

I agree with you RoseG. One thing these programs do do is to get kids to read. With anything there's only so much you can do. The most important thing is for parents to read to young kids, have lots of books in the house, etc. But at some point, kids make up their own minds. Same with everything else (eating comes to mind - you can show them how to eat healthily...).

And Gone with the Wind is not the worst thing to have read to learn about the civil war. It is most definitely NOT a love story, even if that's what hollywood picked out to tell (the movie WAS 4 or more hours long, remember). It's actually pretty interesting - since most people don't learn about the war from the southern point of view (the one who wins usually is the one who gets to tell the story).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | April 3, 2008 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Is there any danger in a teenager reading too much? I can't even get my 13 year old daughter to watch American Idol with me because she has been glued to a book. What's just as bad is she, like Atlmom's sister, has taken to reading on the can, and the bathroom is shared by 5 other family members. Inconvenient, but my major concern is that I've noticed that the more she reads, the more withdrawn she gets, and I'm afraid it could lead to depression. Do I have anything to worry about?

Army Brat, that was a cheap shot, but I'll admit to laughing at it.

Posted by: DandyLion | April 3, 2008 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Actually, DandyLion - she would sit on the floor. :)

I don't know if you could say anything. IT's not a tragedy if your child foregoes (sp?) TV for reading. However, if there are absolutely no activities she participates in, perhaps - maybe she feels awkward or something - and maybe losing herself in books helps her. 13 is a tough age. You just never know. Just keep some dialogue up. That's all you can do - maybe check into her getting involved in extracurricular activities (something like drama classes might help, if you think she never talks to anyone at all).
Maybe you weren't looking for some deep advice, either.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | April 3, 2008 9:51 AM | Report abuse

ArmyBrat, Spot on, my man, LOL.

and you don't have a reputation for snark, particularly, so it's even funnier.

On-topic: anything that establishes a habit of reading is good. We don't bother to support incentive reading programs because no one in our family remembers about them, e.g., we don't write down what's read, don't turn the sheets in, whatever. Our kids read for fun, so our family doesn't need to incentivize reading. Instead, we incentivize doing one's best on big projects. If either of our kids cared about the reading programs, we'd support them. I'm glad they exist, though, if they motivate more kids to read, and read what they want, for fun.

Posted by: mn.188 | April 3, 2008 10:03 AM | Report abuse

MN: same here. We are a little to lazy to keep track of all the programs. I feel a little bad, though, when they have a party or something and then my kid doesn't get to participate - the programs are set up, I think, so that most or all of the kids should be able to achieve the goal, so realistically, it doesn't feel good (for the parent, I doubt the kids care all that much) to be left out.
Eh - but my kid's got to learn early on that I'm a slacker mom and he's going to miss out on all sorts of stuff because of that. :)

Posted by: atlmom | April 3, 2008 10:06 AM | Report abuse

I think it's safe to say that this blog attracts educated parents who like reading, so the children of this group may not have a need for an incentive program like this. The kids who really benefit from this are those who don't have parents who are readers. My husband grew up in a house without books. His parents never read for pleasure; he took that cue from them and didn't read either.

Today as an adult, reading is difficult for him. He sees me reading on the beach and he just can't relate. Reading isn't fun for him because as a kid he didn't get any practice. He wants to get pleasure from reading, but he can't because it's tough.

I truly believe that if he had read more, he would be a reader today - he's a very smart guy, just not a great reader (or writer). Maybe baseball tickets would have motivated him - who knows?

Posted by: katie | April 3, 2008 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I love to read and we do read to the kids but I have to admit to being a little slacker about it. It is hard to read a book to a child that doesn't understand what you are saying. He gets bored quickly and the reading experience is not as good as it could be.

Last night, I simply paraphrased a book on Velociraptors in Spanglish. He gets the information out of the book but its not read to him. It is in Spanglish so he understands it (the Spanish part) and he learns new English words (which we explain in Spanish usually) and we also reinforce English words he always knows.

Posted by: Billie | April 3, 2008 10:46 AM | Report abuse

i give myself (as an adult) my own incentive reading programs. I have a goal to reach 100 books in 18 months. There is no reward in the end other than I want to see if I can do it. I'm up to 45 since May so I think I will probably hit it. Hour and Half commutes each way by train mean I have a lot of time for reading I wouldn't otherwise with the kiddos.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2008 10:51 AM | Report abuse

My reading program for my reluctant reader teenage son was the newspaper. I got it every day and read it at breakfast, and found reasons most days to interest him in some story or another. Soon he got interested in certain sections, especially anything about computers or technology. He read some sci fi books too from time to time, I would try getting him similar ones or ones from the same series. Anything that works is good I think.

Posted by: Catherine | April 3, 2008 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Yes, I do lament that we do not get the local newspaper, as that was one way that I started reading on a daily basis. First it was the comics, then branching out from there. Personally, I'm not that concerned with what they read, as long as they read - maybe we'll start to get the Times or the Journal when the kids get older.
Cause we get OUR news, for the most part, from the web. But the kids don't see that we are reading the news, at this point, they probably think it's video games or something.

Posted by: atlmom | April 3, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I did the Book-it (Pizza Hut) program when I was in elementary school - I read so much that my entire family got pretty sick of Pizza Hut since we were going every month. :)

But even without the program, and after the program ended, I read all the time. I don't think there's anything wrong with those incentives. And I never remember it being anything other than fun. We had to do book reports and the like for our grades anyway, so why not get an extra boost like free pizza?

And to the earlier poster wondering about his daughter's reading habits - I was that kid myself. I ALWAYS had my nose in a book and my parents had to take them away from me at mealtimes. I brought my books into the bathroom, outside, in the car, wherever I could. Eventually, she'll grow out of it (at least I did - my reading finally started to slow in college). You can maybe ask her if she wants to come read out in the same room where you are watching American Idol, but really, I wouldn't be upset that she's not watching TV.

Posted by: AvidReader | April 3, 2008 11:16 AM | Report abuse

I used to take a book in the bathroom, lock the door, and sit on the floor and read for 30 minutes or more, then flush the toilet, wash my hands, and come out. I would try that now that I am a mom, but there would be no peace.

My older daughter reads in bed at night with a flashlight. The younger one reads in bed by flashlight on weekend mornings if she remembers to not wake me up.

Reading incentive programs are fine, but like others, I can't keep track of them, and since the girls read all the time anyway, they don't need them.

Posted by: reading in the bathroom | April 3, 2008 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Completely OT, but I love anchovies on pizza. In college, after a couple of times getting one slice of a pizza I ordered, (college kids have ESP when it comes to pizza, and descend on it like a pack of wolves), I started ordering a half anchovy pie, guaranteeing at least 4 pieces for myself, with another 4 to keep the masses happy. Maybe I lived next to ArmyBrat without knowing it.

Posted by: DCD | April 3, 2008 11:31 AM | Report abuse

My older son is just beginning to be able to read (he read me cat in the hat the last week or so, I was so proud).

We've read the winnie the pooh stories to him a zillion times (since he was about 3 or so, I can't believe his attention span). I can tell he'll be a big reader.

The little one doesn't have as much stamina, but will take a bunch of books to have us read to him (right now, guess what? potty book!) - he sees us reading to the older one and he's picked up on that we all like reading, so he asks to be read to. I don't think he would as much if he didn't see the older one asking a lot too (he has so much else to do!).

Posted by: atlmom | April 3, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Kids don't always get the "intrinsic" motivation that adults want them to. I don't think there's wrong with giving tangible rewards--it just depends on the scale of the reward. If a kid reads a bunch of books and gets a pizza, where's the harm? Maybe in the process he or she will discover books that inspire a love of reading that is rewarded by reading. Presto, intrinsic motivation.

"Alfie Kohn's written on this topic (Punished By Rewards) and essentially argues that providing external motivation for something (whether it's positive or negative) strips away one's intrinsic motivation, be it love of reading or working to please your own internal standards."

How far is a society supposed to take this? I haven't read Kohn's work, but as described, it sounds like both positive and negative reinforcement are bad, and that sounds like anarchy. Surely that's not what he's suggesting.

A little external motivation is fine, IMO. My brother and I got paid for grades, because my father felt that if he got paid tangibly for doing his job, we should too. Here's the thing: he didn't pay us enough to make a difference in our grades. We got something like 25 cents for a B and 50 cents for an A. But I would consistently forget about the cash "reward" until I was on my way home with a report card. I was still trying to get As because I wanted As, not because I wanted an extra quarter. The minimal amount of money was a nice perk, but it wasn't a source of motivation.

And I still love learning for learning's sake. That's probably why I got a master's degree, won on Jeopardy, and read as often as possible--not because of some minor incentive when I was in elementary school.

Posted by: Kate | April 3, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Kate: then what was the point to pay you for the grades? I tend to lean towards the not paying for grades (you should do well, it's it's own reward, then you will be able to obtain a better education, you will do better later on, etc).

I'm just curious. If it didn't motivate you, why bother?
We never got anything but our butt kicked if we *didn't* get good grades. (metaphorically speaking - basically, things like extracurriculars were taken away).

And for me, the youngest, it was going to be the only way to get out of the miserable house I lived in - I would be able to go to college - so I tried pretty hard to be able to get out of there, seeing how my sisters had done it. I needed no other incentive.

Posted by: atlmom | April 3, 2008 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I have mixed feelings. If a kid needs reading practice and resists it, these programs cause no harm and may help. The literature in psychology and education is pretty clear though: you run the risk of having kids read mostly for the rewards. I think how the teacher, etc handles it makes a huge difference: is the pizza coupon a big deal and is always used as the reason one should read, or is it presented as a fun sign of success? My teenage niece visited me one summer and we listened to a recorded teen book while we were driving around ("Who put that hair in my toothbrush?" for those who want to know). I was shocked when she told me that she had wanted to read it but it wasn't "on the list" and she wouldn't get any credits for it so she figured why bother.

Posted by: Angela | April 3, 2008 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I'm leery of giving incentives for things that are in a child's best interest. It seems that these things are pervasive and I'm concerned that we have a generation who asks "what do I get" before doing anything at all. You know what you get from reading, literacy, employment, entertainment - seems like more than enough to me. Chris Rock has a whole bit on people looking to be rewarded for doing what they are supposed to do - very funny and very true.

Posted by: Moxiemom | April 3, 2008 12:09 PM | Report abuse

it seems a more appropriate reward system if one must do it, would be to something like for every 2 teacher selected books they read, they can then read one that the class votes on. Same with your child. One Nathaniel Hawthorne will earn your child one Harry Potter or Goosbumps book.

Posted by: moxiemom | April 3, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

We have talked about rewarding our son/step-son for doing what he is supposed to do... like homework and decided against it.

According to my husband, he is very much into doing things because he gets something as opposed to doing something simply because he is part of the family and you are required to pitch in. He said that if you reward him for doing what he is supposed to do then he will never do it unless he gets his rewards. He wants to nip that whole - I am only going to do things that get things for me - attitude in the bud.

Not sure if we have improved his motivation to help out and do his homework tho.

Posted by: Billie | April 3, 2008 12:17 PM | Report abuse

A point should be made that the Book-It and the Baseball programs are competely voluntary. The teachers don't get anything out of it. There's no contest to see which class gets the most pizza, or anything like that. As far as the teachers are concerned, it's just another hand out.

So, a parent whose child is a reluctant reader can try it out.
Parents who can't keep track can put the task on the child to keep track. Even in Kindergarten this can work.
Or, you can throw it away.
And maybe make up your own incentive. Or not.
And there is no consequence to the child back in the classroom.

Posted by: prarie dog | April 3, 2008 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Moxie, I LOVE that Chris Rock routine!

I'm also ambivalent about these things. If a kid is struggling and needs a short-term incentive, then sure. I needed that one year: we moved to a new school system right before 7th grade, and I struggled with the system (ie, hard to diagram sentences when you've never heard of a "noun 1" or "noun 2" before -- silly me, I had learned they were "subjects" and "objects"). When I got mostly Bs the first quarter, I got really down on myself, and my mom offered me a small cash reward for each A (like $0.50). Not to tell me I needed to work harder, but just to show me she knew I could do it, and as an extra little pat on the back for making it through. Just knowing it was there made me feel better, because it showed me she had confidence in me.

But I do have concerns like Moxie mentioned. These things seem to be everywhere -- seems like everywhere you go has a reading contest, or "get an A, get a burger" contest. An overabundance of rewards cheapens the whole concept -- all you do is jack up the size of the incentive you need to make a difference (i.e., why should I read 50 books just to get my name in the paper, when I can read 10 and get a hamburger?). When every "desirable" behavior is hooked into some tangible reward, over time it can teach kids that you only do things for the reward.

I generally don't sign my kids up for these things. We read for school, or because it's fun, or because my daughter can feel like she's getting away with something when she reads under the covers instead of going to sleep. If one of my kids struggles with something in particular, then sure, I'll consider a small reward system to help him or her pull through. But until then, the only external reward my girl gets is mommy and daddy telling her how proud we are of her for working so hard to slog through that really tough homework assignment.

Posted by: laura33 | April 3, 2008 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Billie: is there anything your stepson LIKES? Like, something that he participates in (sports, music, something?). Cause you can start taking things AWAY that he likes if he doesn't participate (like, I told my son yesterday if he doesn't do his homework, he doesn't go to kung fu. He didn't do his homework, he didn't get to go to kung fu. Oh, well, maybe next week -).

Posted by: atlmom | April 3, 2008 12:25 PM | Report abuse

OT, altmom - do they really call it kung fu? I haven't heard that term in ages - lol! Everyone here calls it karate or martial arts. hee hee makes me think of the song kung fu fighting.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 3, 2008 12:29 PM | Report abuse

i don't know. for some kids there is no need for a motivator but for other kids there is. my son doesn't particularily like to read. if i didn't provide some kind of motivator he wouldn't read. i don't push it too much. my husband hates to read but that is because he is not very good at it. he's not very good at it because he reading is difficult. reading is difficult because he doesn't read very much. it's a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself. i don't want to see that happen to my son.

Posted by: quark | April 3, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Yes, it is, we did try some other karate, but this particular program is kung fu, and when i say karate, my husband corrects me. I don't know the difference at all!

Posted by: atlmom | April 3, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

atlmom, my dad felt that our job was going to school, and that we should be paid a bonus for doing it well. It didn't provide the motivation, but it was a tangible reward for success.

Actually, a bonus is a good parallel. For a few years, I worked at a company that provided them when business was good. The concept of a bonus never made me work harder--I was already committed to doing the best work I could--but I was always happy to get it.

So what was the point of paying me a bonus, you might ask? As a motivational tool, maybe nothing. As a reward, it was pretty cool.

Posted by: Kate | April 3, 2008 12:52 PM | Report abuse

What kind of cult attitude do we have here?

If you, as a parent, cannot help your child discover the joys of reading, without all this external nonsense, then you are a failed parent. Period.

Movies as a reward! Pizza as a reward! Absolutely pathetic.

You "On Parenting" regulars sound like a group of lazy housewives and househusbands that couldn't into Oprah.

Posted by: Beck Childs | April 3, 2008 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Why?

Why is it important for children to read FOR PLEASURE?

I think the reward programs are silly. If you want your child to read - toss out your expensive tvs. We don't have a TV, all of our children are huge readers, and we did absolutely nothing to encourage them.

Well, we both read a lot. And of course we read to them every day as little children (and some are still little so they get read stories). But we never discuss the importance of reading FOR PLEASURE b/c they instinctively enjoy it and reach for a book anytime they go anywhere, just in case there is nothing else to do (such as when attending a sibling's baseball practice).

But...if they didn't want to read for pleasure, I sure wouldn't be jumping up and down trying to force them to. I would expect them to read for school (homework) but if they would prefer to play basketball all afternoon, why not? Why should they be reading instead - if we are talking about pleasure (versus academic) reading?

If your children don't read, but they watch TV instead then you have no one to blame but yourselves: you bought the TV, you turned it on for them before they could reach, you encourage it - either actively by having it on for "the news" or passively by making it available.

Posted by: Amelia | April 3, 2008 1:00 PM | Report abuse

What kind of cult attitude do we have here?

If you, as a parent, cannot help your child discover the joys of reading, without all this external nonsense, then you are a failed parent. Period.

Movies as a reward! Pizza as a reward! Absolutely pathetic.

You "On Parenting" regulars sound like a group of lazy housewives and househusbands that couldn't into Oprah.

Posted by: Beck Childs | April 3, 2008 01:00 PM

Somebody wake up on the bitter side of the bed today?

Posted by: mn.188 | April 3, 2008 1:09 PM | Report abuse

"If you, as a parent, cannot help your child discover the joys of reading, without all this external nonsense, then you are a failed parent. Period."

Well, at least you're not judgmental, Beck Childs.

"If you want your child to read - toss out your expensive tvs. We don't have a TV, all of our children are huge readers, and we did absolutely nothing to encourage them."

Amelia, there are no guarantees. I grew up watching TV and reading, and my husband grew up without a TV. Today I read more than he does, and he watches more TV than I do. He likes to read and is well-read, but his instinct for relaxation is the television and not books.

Posted by: K | April 3, 2008 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I think the rewards programs are a little pathetic. I wouldn't be in the streets railing against them or anything, but it sounds pretty lame to me. The attitude that it teaches is "why do anything unless I get a reward for it," and I think we have too much of that in this culture as it is. As a student mom, a lot of the kids I go to college with nowadays still have that attitude at the age of 21: "if homework's not gonna be collected, then why should I do it?" and then they complain that they get Cs lol.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2008 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Right on K. We had soda every night with dinner. Oh no!!!

So, I drink almost NO soda, only buy it when we're having people over (if I remember) and my kids don't drink it much at all. My friends who grew up with no soda in the house at all drink it more frequently than I do. You just never know, it's a crap shoot.

Posted by: atlmom | April 3, 2008 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Kids in my son's third grade class were supposed to keep track of how many minutes they read every night and turn in a signed sheet each week. Reading a certain number of hours over the course of the school year resulted in a certificate at the end-of-year awards ceremony.

My kid announced that he didn't care about the certificate, so he wasn't going to read. (Alphie Kohn was right.) I told him that I didn't care about the certificate either, but I did care if he read, so he went back to reading, but without bothering to keep track of how many minutes. Unless it is organized by a parent who sets a timer, actually keeping track of the number of minutes spent reading every day is difficult for anyone, much less a third grader. Most parents, I later learned, just filled out the forms with the expected value, and signed them--great lesson in honesty there. Its hard to see anything good about this particular incentive program.

Posted by: anon | April 3, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

atlmom,

He has lost out on a few things but they are more one time things because he is not involved in any organized anything.

So he lost an opportunity to go to the park, stay in the park to continue playing (which he loves) and he has lost a couple of opportunities to watch TV shows or movies. He almost lost use of his stuffed animals but when he understand that if he didn't put them away he wouldn't get them the next day... well let's just say they were put away within the next couple of minutes.

It seems to be rare that punishment of any type has any effect on his behaviour other than in the immediate short term - say that evening. Hopefully we will see something in the long haul.

His sister on the other hand is totally different. Last night, she was playing at the table during supper and split her orange juice over everything. We rushed to clean it up and probably looked a little put out by it and then told her not to play at the table in a stern voice. No yelling, no screaming, no punishment because it was an accident. She was absolutely devastated and cried off and on for quite a long time.

How do you get two totally different kids from the same household? Ok... maybe I shouldn't wonder... my brother and I are completely different.

Posted by: Billie | April 3, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, we have a generation of kids who can't even go to a birthday party without expecting a gift. I thought the party, the experience, was what the guests got in return. Silly me. Just more of the same.

Posted by: Moxiemom | April 3, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

To K:

"Amelia, there are no guarantees. I grew up watching TV and reading, and my husband grew up without a TV. Today I read more than he does, and he watches more TV than I do. He likes to read and is well-read, but his instinct for relaxation is the television and not books"

But again - who cares? What does it matter that your husband prefers the TV? If you want children to read, then have an atmosphere conducive to reading.

What do you care if your husband reads FOR PLEASURE? What difference does it make?

Some people enjoy reading more than other activities. Some people prefer to be active - some prefer the TV. If you don't want your children to watch TV - don't have one. Same goes for your husband, I guess, but I still don't know why it matters what he is choosing to do for fun.

Posted by: Amelia | April 3, 2008 1:35 PM | Report abuse

As the parent of a child who didn't like to read for enjoyment, I appreciate incentive programs like these. Our 9 year old would never pick up a book by choice (which is surprising b/c both my husband and I are avid readers). When her class participated in the pizza hut program she was so excited b/c she loves their pizza and I can't stand it, so this was her chance to get some. She was really motivated and through that found a few books she really liked. That led to a conversation with the librarian who helped her find more books and she reads all the time now.

Posted by: Momof5 | April 3, 2008 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Amelia: because books open up a whole world for kids. They can learn new things, become well spoken on topics, learn what others are talking about, learn about what interests them, learn about their world, see what the world has to offer, etc. It's not just about what they are going to be doing as adults - but part of it is. If you only see your parents being something (i.e., their profession) but don't learn about other ones, how can you know what other things there are to do with your life? That's just one example. Learning about other kinds of people, that not everyone has your experiences and point of view - that's a big thing too.

Reading opens most kids up to things they otherwise would not see. Most kids don't travel to europe or asia yearly, but they can go daily by reading. These are many reasons why yes, it's important for kids to read.

Posted by: atlmom | April 3, 2008 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Amelia, you also said this: "If your children don't read, but they watch TV instead then you have no one to blame but yourselves: you bought the TV, you turned it on for them before they could reach, you encourage it - either actively by having it on for "the news" or passively by making it available."

Amelia, you're blaming disinterest in reading on TV ownership. My point is that you're making a generalization that doesn't necessarily hold up. As far as I'm concerned, if my husband wants to watch more TV than I do, so what? I don't know why you think that upsets me, but I don't, and that concept is in your post, not mine.

"If you want children to read, have an atmosphere that is conducive to reading."

Sure. But eliminating television isn't a guarantee of that, and owning a television doesn't mean parents are failing to create that atmosphere.

Posted by: Kate | April 3, 2008 1:49 PM | Report abuse

On the top of the browser it says: Rewards for Reading - On Parenting.

Where are my rewards?

Posted by: atlmom | April 3, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I still don't get the hand-wringing. All studies I've seen equate TV watching with less voluntary reading. I don't know anyone who says their children aren't watching enough TV, but everyone I know is worried b/c their children don't read much or at all.

My own experience w/o TV says that children read all the time - but, I could be completely wrong -maybe that stems from something other than no TV. I happened to have 6 otherwise completely diverse children who all happen to love reading? (or hearing stories read for the little ones).

And why doesn't watching TV open up all those worlds that altmom says books do? I don't like to watch TV; I'm a huge supporter of reading - I read all the time - but I don't expect everyone to do what I do. If a child prefers being active all the time to reading - then I think being active is fine.

If a child doesn't enjoy reading for pleasure, doesn't find all the benefits in it that altmom does, then maybe the child doesn't get the same things out of reading that I do. Isn't that also ok?

Posted by: Amelia | April 3, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I don't think there is any environment that you can create that will guarantee that your children will love to read.

My brother and I grew up in the same environment. I was and still am an avid reader. He probably would be just as happy if all books were burned in a big bonfire.

Posted by: Billie | April 3, 2008 2:03 PM | Report abuse

"Seriously, we have a generation of kids who can't even go to a birthday party without expecting a gift. I thought the party, the experience, was what the guests got in return. Silly me. Just more of the same"

We had a birthday party for my daughter at one of those sweet and sassy places-not cheap- the kids got an "oscar", hair extension and a picture of all the kids modeling. One girl (to the horror of her mother) said where's my goody bag and when told those items were it, threw a fit. I felt sorry for the mom becuase frankly it could have been any kid, goody bags should be banned

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2008 2:07 PM | Report abuse

One solution to the problem of all these things my kids don't need, and all these things *your* kids don't need was at my son's last birthday party, we had a book swap. Each kid brought a book, and then I had them all put in a bag, and everyone picked a book to take home. No problems at all. It was great, and we didn't have to get stuff we didn't need. I bought a few books to bring to the party, in case someone didn't follow directions or forgot. It was great.

And, wow, 2:07. Most kids are happy with crappy pieces of plastic that break in 5 minutes.

Posted by: atlmom | April 3, 2008 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I totally support little incentive programs like these- when they are young, it's the time to really grab them and get into the habit of it and a little material reward can really help instill the sense that "X activity results in more fun later."

Also for the other reasons stated- it's a chance for the non-athletes/nerdier kids to actually get some appreciation early on.

And I like that it's an overall thing, not just a "what my parents" decide. But that's more a personal thing since I never get lots of material rewards for doing well in school and would have to deal with kids getting major gifts (cars, games, etc) for far less scholastic achievement.

It's one of those "no risk of harm, great risk of reward" deals, why would we be against that?

To Dandy- that was totally me in the "always reading." I'd say there is reason to be concerned, but only to the point of making sure she does do group organized things- tennis, swimming, scrabble, heck even book clubs! Not just for adults! These are all things she can do "with a group" but still be on her own ground.

Posted by: Liz D | April 3, 2008 2:13 PM | Report abuse

I'm not wringing my hands. I'm saying that people are individuals, and that eliminating one entire pastime may not be the long-term (or even the short-term) answer for everyone.

Posted by: Kate | April 3, 2008 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I'm not a huge fan of these programs, because they give the kids the impression that reading is a chore instead of something to do for fun. On the other hand, if you've got a bunch of kids who already dislike reading for whatever reason, you've got to do what you can to get them to read just so their proficiency level will go up. It's a shame, though. The best thing would be to find books for the kids that they actually like to read.

As for TV watching- I watched a pretty good amount of tv as a kid. I also read a ton of books. I don't think that one thing necessarily has anything to do with the other.

Posted by: va | April 3, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse

TV and Books - no they don't. We could watch as much TV as we wanted, during homework, all day weekends, whatever. And we all read a lot too.

Posted by: atlmom | April 3, 2008 2:23 PM | Report abuse

I'm in both camps on the t.v./books thing. I love reading, and given a quiet moment anywhere will read anything I can get my hands on, love it, love it, love it. I also love t.v. and will watch it wherever there is one. love it, love it, love it! Sometimes, I even read and watch t.v. - ahhhh nirvana! oh, plus pizza = nirvana.

BTW I grew up in a house where reading was prized and t.v. was very limited. I also grew up in a house where we had no soda and I don't like soda to this day. Go figure. I think as a parent you have to do your best and be willing to accept that the result may be different than intended. There is no recipe for a great adult.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 3, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I'm not a fan in general of this kind of program for a wide variety of reasons... probably more on the Alfie Kohn side than not.

That said, I do think there is a particular kind of kid who benefits from them. A very extrinsically motivated kid who also really like whatever the reward is (the movies being one example) who wouldn't read on his/her own.

I just wish that school time was not spent on these for the other 80% of kids.

Posted by: Shandra | April 3, 2008 2:31 PM | Report abuse

I hate the you should do it for the love of learning aspect blah blah blah. Incenting people is how the world works and if they get a few pizzas out of it and become a good reader, more power to them

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

"I hate the you should do it for the love of learning aspect blah blah blah. Incenting people is how the world works and if they get a few pizzas out of it and become a good reader, more power to them"

Evidence of a person who does not have a love of learning....

Posted by: Jake | April 3, 2008 2:46 PM | Report abuse

va and atlmom: I agree. I'm a fan of moderation, possibly because that's how I was raised. We watched TV, read books, played outside, played board games, spent time with family, traveled, etc. And I still do all of those things, so for me, at least, it worked.

We didn't have this type of reading incentive program, but we did have "read-a-thons" to raise money for MS research. Some kids could get $1 a book, but I could never get more than 10 cents per book because people knew how much I read. Still, the reward for that was not just reading, but helping other people. That's an intangible, but it was made a little more quantifiable because you knew how much money you'd collected for the cause.

Posted by: Kate | April 3, 2008 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Evidence of a person who does not have a love of learning....

Posted by: Jake | April 3, 2008 02:46 PM

And you work for free at your job because you have a love of work right? Didn't think so.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2008 2:54 PM | Report abuse

"And you work for free at your job because you have a love of work right? Didn't think so."

I don't work for free AND I love most of my job.

Posted by: Jake | April 3, 2008 2:57 PM | Report abuse

So, what, if kids don't get paid they shouldn't go to school? Or if they don't love every minute of it, they shouldn't go? Why inflict it on the poor darlings?

Posted by: atlmom | April 3, 2008 3:00 PM | Report abuse

"And you work for free at your job because you have a love of work right? Didn't think so."

I don't work for free AND I love most of my job.

WHAT? you need some incentive to do your job? You said you loved most of it, isn't that enough? How unaltruistic

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2008 3:02 PM | Report abuse

"WHAT? you need some incentive to do your job? You said you loved most of it, isn't that enough? How unaltruistic"

1. I like to eat and so does my family.
2. Please let me know when a vacancy opens up for someone to pet kittens & puppies all day...

Posted by: Jake | April 3, 2008 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Seriously. Really now. I mean, my kids' jobs are to be kids. BUT YES I do expect them to help out around the house, to clean up, do what they're supposed to.

AND YES, They should be reading books, doing their homework, etc.
They get to live in my house, they get clothes, heat, AC, food, vacations, stuff.

SO they're job is to do well, be good, and go to school...

Posted by: atlmom | April 3, 2008 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Nothing against TV but when you watch TV for the most part you're picking between various things that are available at that time (although you could watch them later). When you read you can choose from books at a bookstore or library that range in subject and target much much more than TV, and you can read in a multitude of settings at your own pace. Plus reading develops reading skills and vocabulary which are only helpful in life. I'm hard pressed to see how far good TV-watching skills will get you.

Posted by: Angela | April 3, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse

atlmom: "

On the top of the browser it says: Rewards for Reading - On Parenting.

Where are my rewards?"

Your rewards are that you get to learn cool stuff and interact with people from all over the country who have neat and interesting ideas.

Oh, and with me and DandyLion, too, but you gotta take the bad with the good. Even Jake only loves MOST of his job. :-)


Posted by: ArmyBrat | April 3, 2008 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Alfie Kohn is wrong. At least for some people. I am and always have been a competitive person. I love to compete, and I like to win.

If the gym is giving out a free t-shirt to anyone who shows up to work out twelve times in a month, I'm much more likely to be there fifteen times (in case the system misses a couple) than if it's a normal month.

If there was a prize for reading the most books, then by gosh and by golly I'd read as many books as I could. And guess what - I learned a bunch and found some new things I liked because of it.

I don't know; maybe ol' Alfie just thinks I'm a defective person or something because I don't fit his model.

(On the topic of competing: Kate, I am SOOOO jealous that you won on Jeopardy. I lost! - Cue Weird Al Yankovic - 'Course, it was my misfortune to run into a buzzsaw from Utah. Life's that way. It was cool being interviewed about the experience on CNN and the local news channels after he finally lost, though.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | April 3, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Heeeyyy, altmom - looks like you've got yourself a posse! Just you and your peeps On Parenting. Leave some of the men who are attracted to women who can reason for the rest of us!

Angela - I really am a huge advocate of reading but do you have cable? We have a gillion channels and some of the things I have seen there are unmatched by literature. Planet Earth and HBO's Real Sex (yikes, people completely covered in latex - who knew?) are two that spring to mind! haha

Posted by: Moxiemom | April 3, 2008 3:55 PM | Report abuse

"Nothing against TV but when you watch TV for the most part you're picking between various things that are available at that time (although you could watch them later)."

Well, since I don't have cable and my TV is in the basement, when I watch TV, I am picking between the 3 DVDs we own that are geared for adults (I started to say "adult movies" but that wasn't quite right). Or, I check out a video from the library or video store. So I don't watch much TV, and I do read a good bit, but time not watching TV does not necessarily become time reading a book. Sometimes I just want to be entertained without thinking too hard. That's TV time, not necessarily book reading time. If I'm in that mode but am not interested in anything I can get my hands on, I don't watch TV, but I don't read either.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2008 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Hey moxie - I'll take whatever I can get.

Posted by: atlmom | April 3, 2008 4:06 PM | Report abuse

"Nothing against TV but when you watch TV for the most part you're picking between various things that are available at that time (although you could watch them later)."

Repeat after me:

TiVo
Video on Demand
Downloadable movies/TV shows

To be honest, pretty much the only times I choose among what's available on TV at a given time are when I'm watching the news, and when I'm watching sports. I just can't get in to delayed sports; I have to know who's winning in real time. And since I like to get the detailed weather report, I usually watch most of the news.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | April 3, 2008 4:19 PM | Report abuse

altmom -
A. You are keeping the bar low and are thus, a copycat. Only moxiemom keeps the bar that low.

B. I wouldn't exactly say that Dandy Lion and Army Brat are slim pickings.

I'm done for the day. Have a great night everyone!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 3, 2008 4:30 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: iopqje | April 3, 2008 11:28 PM | Report abuse

Our ISD has a rewards program for reading. It has gotten to the point that the kids are playing a numbers game. To make a decent grade in English, they have to meet a point goal.

So my child, who reads very well, will pick on level books and finish them out ASAP in a 6 weeks period. Unfortunately this causes him to look at longer, or harder books as a waste of time that may but him behind in his "goal".

I have tried to reward him for reading "good" books, and have found that he is not interested in investing the time and possibly messing up his point total :/

Posted by: Silverlining | April 3, 2008 11:54 PM | Report abuse

Incentives are not bad in and of themselves. But it IS important to take note of how they are used in the classroom, how kids respond, and how kids perceive the rewards. If they are exploring more books and reading more because of the program, great. But the program should be measured not just by how many books a child read DURING the program, but by whether they continue to read AFTER. These programs often take several weeks and the external reward is often not very big. In the long run, if you feel your child needs an extra incentive to read, you might be better off devising a program personalized for your kid with more frequent short term rewards. Perhaps a few more minutes to stay up, or a little extra time for a favorite activity. And reading with your kids is always a good idea, even in the later elementary grades. Having an older child read to a younger child can also be great practice- it shows them how far they have come.

Posted by: perspective | April 9, 2008 12:16 PM | Report abuse

LOVE rewards programs. My kids are 16 and 13 and I have done all sorts of horrible rewards things over the years, to great benefit. When my son was 8 he was terrified to swing when at bat in a baseball game. He stood there, unmoving, and struck out game after game. So I offered him $1 per swing and $2 per hit. I know, I know, bribery, it's awful. But that first game cost me $10 and he swung and hit ever after. I could have bribed him with trips to a baseball game or forbidden foods, but he was saving for a special toy at the time. Condemn me if you want, but it was a one-time deal and it was highly effective.

Regarding reading, I've found that my kids loved to read once they found fun books (each kid is different); like swinging a bat, do what it takes to knock down the wall. Bribe them for the first set of books, absolutely, and then reward them with all the books they want, and watch 'em go!

Posted by: Pat | April 11, 2008 2:57 PM | Report abuse

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