Should We Pay Kids To Read?

Not everyone is a reader.  Some people devour all printed text like there will be a publishing famine. Others struggle with reading or just don’t care for it.  You hear of all kinds of rewards systems to get kids to read, but I always wonder–do they really work?

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The one they had when I was in school was the BOOK IT! Pizza Hut program, where if our whole class met our reading goal, Pizza Hut would sponsor a pizza party!  But then Pizza Hut got smart and realized LOTS more kids could read than they had estimated, so it was cancelled. My teacher had pity on us and held a potluck.

Another example of rewards for reading is my friend’s family–one summer her parents decided to pay their kids a dollar for every book they read.  The next summer, they had to pay the kids not to read.  Success!

But, while I was in the BOOK IT! program, my parents weren’t too excited about it.  They thought if I only read for rewards, then–whoops!–no rewards, no reading! Little did they know; I’m an addict for life.  But maybe (the argument goes) I was a lifelong reader way before that…

Maybe reading incentive programs are one way of getting kids interested in books.  But might they also teach that reading brings “treats” instead of pleasure in itself?

One article had this to say:

All those reading incentive campaigns inflicted on elementary school children across the country provide sobering evidence of just how many parents and educators are trapped by Skinnerian thinking.  They also illustrate the consequences of extrinsic motivators more generally. About the likely results of “Book It!”, Pizza Hut’s food-for-reading program, educational psychologist John Nicholls replied, only half in jest, that it would probably produce “a lot of fat kids who don’t like to read.”

(For the full article, click here.  It’s a brief, articulate critique of programs like BOOK IT! and Accelerated Reader.)

Wow, that’s a pretty strong rejection of programs that everyone seems to be doing.  I’m curious–what started you reading? Did you ever do one of these programs?  Did it destroy your “reading ethic” or help it out?  I’d love to hear!


13 thoughts on “Should We Pay Kids To Read?

  1. This is a great topic to tackle. I remember the Book It! program, as well as the annual summer reading program sponsored at my library. (They didn’t feed us, but they did have tantalizing prizes like Arthur stickers and feathery pencils.) I loved these programs because I was “rewarded” for reading quickly, but when I think about it, I already loved reading; these programs didn’t spark my passion for literature, they just added more logs to the fire. From what I observed of my peers, the programs weren’t about reveling in the experience of a book, but about adding short, simple books to their tally. There was no intrinsic benefit. Were the programs successful in getting kids to read? Absolutely. But did they encourage a life-long appreciation of literature? Probably not.

  2. I didn’t start really reading till I was 27! Of course I read here and there before that but I didn’t develop a passion for reading till after I got married. I don’t know what started it except maybe a good book. (It was “The Summer of My German Soldier” and some other young teen books that were popular at that time. Certainly not my age sort of books.) I didn’t have Book It or Accelerated Reading. Who knows…maybe if I did I would have started earlier. I wonder if those programs get some students into reading and if it get some other students into checking a box or earning points. Either way, they are reading. It’s way to start. Do you know anyone who earned a lot of points (or ate a lot of pizza) who really doesn’t like reading now?

    • I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head–but surely there’s got to be someone. Not everyone likes to read, even if they wish they did…
      Thanks for reading 🙂

  3. I suppose certain incentives would have worked for me and did in their own way. Current events where we had to find articles to bring to class made me read things other than hunting and fishing magazines. When I learned it was actually profitable for me (rather than an adult telling me to read) then I began to read a whole lot more. I was a deprived kid. I went through school before Pizza hut incentives.

  4. WOW! You have a lot to say and cause one to think about! I am in school to be a teacher and am taking a Teaching Reading” class right now. This helps me alter some thinking, because it comes from a student perspective rather than an educator perspective! I have been a life-long avid reader…I was devouring books at a very early age. Like your uncle Gary I feel deprived becase I, too, am too old to have had the Pizza Hut incentives!

  5. The one thing that inspired me to become a life long reader was hanging out with my cousin who was quite the bookworm. We would get together for a sleepover and she always had a great book she was reading. We would spend part of our time reading and then discussing parts of the books. One of the books she shared with me was The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I was hooked after that. One year when I went to Bible camp, my camp counselor read to us every night when lights were out. It was exciting to look forward to what was coming next, and it actually kept us in the cabin at night. Smart counselor!!! I also have fond memories of those Book-It days!!! How about those cereal box book reports?

    • Hi Mrs. Ringgenberg!! I certainly do remember the cereal box book reports, and a lot of other fun things we did with reading in your class. 😀 If I remember right, you are the teacher I was talking about here. How fun!
      I loved Book It, I confess, because it was an excuse for our family to go to Pizza Hut, which was a huge treat. But apparently it didn’t hurt my reading one bit.
      Good to hear from you! Thanks so much for stopping by! 🙂

  6. Hey Elena!
    I do in fact have a daughter who responded to the AR program and no longer likes to read. Basically, she was very competitive and liked to see her name on the top of the reading board in the front of the school. I have another daughter who loves to read for the sake of reading. My third daughter struggles to read (learning disabilities), so I am thankful for any program that makes reading more appealing. My fouth (and final!) daughter is like her mother: she needs to read like she needs to breathe. So…who knows? Each kid is different. By the way, Wolves of Willoughby Chase was one of our favorite books to read aloud together just for the sheer fun of it!

    • Hi Debbie!!
      Willoughby Chase is indeed a good book : ) . It does seem like everyone is different–I heard of a kid getting hooked on, of all things, Dostoevsky when his brother had almost despaired of getting him to read Stephen King. So, you know, I think you’re right :).
      I think I’m in the reading-breathing category too.
      Thanks for commenting! Happy weekend!

  7. I think what probably played the largest part in my love for reading is that my mom read to me from the time I was young and on through elementary school. However, in school I did participate in the Pizza Hut BOOK IT! program. It was great! But of course, I already liked reading by then. The pizza was only added incentive to keep me reading.

  8. Wow! What a conversation here! Love this.
    I started to read, not because I fell in love with the books, but with story! It sounds synonymous, I know. But really, my aunt carol began telling us stories at a young age and my imagination was instantly addicted. Incentives weren’t really needed, so when they were given it was just an added treat. :]

  9. Great post Elena! Didn’t even know you had a blog – your Uncle Gary put me onto it through FB. I think I always liked reading. The first book I remember reading by myself was Alice in Wonderland in 1st grade. I don’t remember any reading incentives at school, however there was one teacher in about 4th grade who made a pie chart with different categories of reading (biographies, science, history, etc.) and we had to read at least two books from every category and do the old book report thing. Good thing she did that, otherwise I would’ve kept on reading only dog and horse stories! 🙂

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