Our family is no stranger to our local library. The librarians know us all by name. We are there quite frequently, checking out books, hanging out, or running in for a quick pick up of books on hold; a quick trip to the library for us is about 20 minutes. So, it seems to surprise many people that I’m not a fan of summer reading programs.
Summer reading programs have changed a bit since I was a kid. Back then summer reading programs were contests, pitting kids against one another to see who would win the title of summer reading queen or king, a crown, a free book, and a picture in the paper. There also seemed to be a competition between the parents, who were none too pleased to have their child beat out by a slip of a girl who won each year through no effort, reading more 800 page novels than their child read picture books, attempting to hide behind the free book in the newspaper picture.
This generation’s summer reading programs no longer pit children against one another. Instead, they are challenged to read with the offer or rewards – books or trinkets – as though the only reason to read, when not forced to do so in an institutional setting, is to receive dangling trinkets.
My disdain of punishment and reward based systems had me shying away from such programs when my oldest was little. Reading is enjoyment itself. I had no desire to taint it for my children. However, at some point, my children grew older and the decision was no longer mine to make.
Last year, after explaining my thoughts on the subject, the concept behind the program, and what would be involved, my children decided to go for it. After all, the idea of free books for doing nothing more than usual had its own appeal. They earned their five free books at the beginning of the summer and continued on with life, happily reading away. This summer, with finances even tighter, our local library only offered one free book with opportunities to earn cheap trinkets. Once again, my children opted to participate but were rather disappointed to find that their prizes were pieces of plastic junk rather than books. They promptly put the items in their stash of items to trade out when geocaching.
A few weeks later, they commented that the program seemed pointless; people who wanted to read would read regardless of receiving prizes. Emphasizing the benefits of reading, helping kids become better acquainted with the library, and pointing them toward good books would accomplish much more if one’s goal was to help people read.