I read The Right Way to Bribe Your Kids to Read in the NY Times this weekend while sitting on a porch with my family. It felt like an especially insightful op-ed – and one I wanted to draw others' attention to – for two reasons: not only do I agree wholeheartedly with the author’s message, but in speaking with my brother about it, I realized...oh wait, this is what our parents did when we were growing up. Nope, they didn’t bribe us (at least not in the traditional sense). If you read the op-ed, you’ll see that the very fact we were all reading the newspaper together proves the author’s point.
The author seeks the input of various experts about whether it's fair – or helpful – to bribe children to read. What she finds is that simple monetary bribes may work in the short-term, but what they don't do is instill a sustained love of literature and language in the long-term. To accomplish that, she suggests, a particular kind of bribe is most effective.
When bribes do work, she explains:
"Payments came with lengthy book discussions. One family went from offering rewards one year to running a book club the next. Parents reflected on years of star charts and prizes, along with years of family trips to the library. Bets were made over who could read the most, and late-night reading under the covers with a flashlight was indulged and encouraged. What I saw — when I really looked — were external motivations to read accompanied by powerful messages about the internal joy to be found in books."
As a kid, I vividly remember devouring one book after another so that my parents would take me to the bookstore to pick out my next one. I loved this ritual so much that by the time I got to high school I even started working at that bookstore.
My enthusiasm for reading might be somewhat innate, I suppose – but my brother recalls the same excitement around finishing a book, talking about it, and selecting the next one. Reading was just part of the fabric of our family. Reading was cool. And today, as I think about my students, I realize this is what I’ve been trying to say all along.
Yes, a healthy diet of reading is essential to improve on the SAT or ACT – but my hope is that once the tests are over, not only reading skills – but also a general appreciation for the act of reading itself – will remain. Maybe our students will replace the ritual of practice testing on weekend mornings with some family reading time. I promise it’s not so bad.