Monthly Archives: August 2013

Reading Contests: Who Wins?

We spent a lot of time in the library this summer break. After our first visit, as we checked out a stack of books, the librarian handed me a pamphlet for the summer reading program. For every book the boys read, they’d get a sticker in a passport. Since we clearly didn’t need this incentive to visit the library or read, I politely said no thanks—and let’s just say the look on the librarian’s face was one of surprise.

In my mind, reading is its own reward. So far, the beautiful boys read (or are read to) because they enjoy it, not for prizes. I see no need to mess with this formula. And a recent story in the news just confirms my belief that reading-for-awards programs can backfire.

According to the story bouncing around Twitter, a librarian criticized a child for reading too much after he won an award for reading the most books over the summer for the fifth year in a row. People are shocked and horrified, some even calling for the librarian to be fired. My opinion will not be popular (nothing new there…): I think people are missing the point.

You see, it is apparent the child in question is an avid reader. Probably the kind of kid who would read whether or not he got a prize, just for the sheer love of it. Which is wonderful. As a fellow bookworm, I can relate to this child, and suspect he’d have a few things in common with my own boys. But to my understanding, the librarian did not actually suggest he was reading “too much”. She was simply concerned that no other children even stood a chance of winning because they can’t keep up to the reigning champ. Other children, perhaps including those who don’t read as well or as avidly as this particular child, but actually need the encouragement and support of a library reading program more than he does.

In my mind, the library put itself into this position. The contest revolves around how many books each child reads. So where does that leave children who read longer, more complex texts, but fewer of them? Or children who struggle to read even the minimum number of books to enter (ten), but not for lack of trying? What about children who know they won’t “win”, so don’t even participate? Could this type of contest encourage children to skim through books without really comprehending them, or choose less challenging texts than they might have if no one was counting? How does this celebrate the achievements of the rest of the readers–those who picked up a book for pleasure for the first time, or who grew as readers? Perhaps the problem is not that a single child dominates the competition–but that reading is a competition at all.

I can completely understand the boy’s feelings (and when I was nine, I am certain I would have believed that children who didn’t read as much as I did weren’t working as hard—but now as a grown up and as a teacher, I understand those children might have been putting in far more effort than I ever did.) And it’s understandable he wants an award that he qualified for, based on the rules put in place by the library.

But I think the point of this whole debacle is not that a librarian is trying to discourage a nine-year-old from reading. The real point is that awards, stickers, points and logs are the wrong way to encourage readers—because the children who read anyway don’t need them, and those who need additional support can’t compete on those terms.

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My Kid Just Said (Part 26)

“If it’s broken, don’t tell me, because somehow I think it will hurt more if you do.” BB#2, almost 6 years old, after having an x-ray on his foot for a monkey-bar-related possible fracture.*

*Fortunately, it doesn’t appear as if any bones were broken.

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My Kid Just Said (Part 25)

“I’m noticing he always seems to get tired whenever he has to do something he doesn’t want to do, like clean up the playroom.” BB#1, almost 9 years old, on his brother, almost 6 years old.

I’ve noticed that too…

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My Kid Just Said (Part 24)

“What’s a rerun?” BB#1, almost 9 years old, whose TV exposure the last few years has been exclusively Netflix.

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My Kid Just Said (Part 23)

“Mommy, even when I’m a teenager, I’ll want you to go with me sometimes, because that’s how much I love you.” BB#2, almost 6 years old, while discussing how at some point in the future, he’ll be able to walk places without a grown-up.

Wanted to make sure to have this one on record.

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Summertime, and the Learning is Easy

Back in June, I had every intention of writing a “what we’ll be doing on our summer vacation” post. As usual life happened, it’s now mid-August, and Back-to-School promotions are in full swing.

As a student/freelancer/newly hired occasional teacher (whoo-hoo!) I’ve been privileged to be at home with the boys the past few summers, and we usually take it pretty easy. I don’t buy into summer learning loss much, as I happen to believe learning takes many forms, that something easily forgotten was probably never learned in the first place, and that there is nothing wrong with a little unstructured downtime for children.

That said, this summer has probably been our most structured yet, with two weeks of day camp for the boys followed by two weeks of daily swimming lessons. In between we’ve played at home and at the park, tried rollerblading and skateboarding, made popsicles, had playdates, visited friends and family, gone swimming, taken part in some library programs, read a lot of books, had family game nights and movie nights, and most recently, spent a week at my husband’s father’s cottage. All in all, a pretty awesome vacation. Sure, I’ll admit I’d like it if BB#1 had read more French books, and if BB#2 had practiced his printing. And I know not every family can or chooses to take this approach, but right now, it’s one that works for us and for the kids we have.

And yet, there’s been plenty of learning. Last year BB#1 attempted water skiing, but gave up pretty quickly. He was determined to try again this year, but by the time he was in the (cold) water and his dad had everything set up and ready to go, he’d gotten very anxious and refused to try. We know from experience that for this child to be successful, he has to be ready—and when he’s ready, there’s no stopping him. So we didn’t pressure him, fully expecting it would be another year before he’d give it another shot. But the next morning, he surprised us by asking to go out again. And he got up on the first try, and didn’t fall once! Do I care if he becomes an expert water skier? No. Do I want him to take advantage of opportunities to try new things when he has the chance, and to stick to it even when it’s challenging? Absolutely.

And he’s not the only one learning the value of trying, trying again. When BB#1 mastered a particularly difficult set of monkey bars recently, BB#2 was determined to do it too—and he did. Over and over. Despite several falls. After his first swimming lesson, he declared he was not going back—he’s a fearless swimmer and loves the water, but is finding his current level difficult. But he stuck it out (at our insistence…) and made it though the session without missing a lesson or throwing another fit. He didn’t pass the level, but he’s stronger, more confident, and had the best back crawl in the class. I couldn’t be prouder of these boys.

They’ve been active, but perhaps more importantly, they’ve been persistent. They’ve set goals, motivated themselves to keep going, learned from mistakes, and succeeded. And really, isn’t that what learning—and life–is all about?

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