Thursday, July 8, 2010

Summer reading program

    We packed up about 40 books, shoving them into 3 canvas bags that were about to burst at the seams, slipped our feet into our flip flops, and the kids and I set off for the library.  This scene repeats itself at least once a week at our house, sometimes twice a week.  The library is practically our second home.  This morning, the place was an absolute zoo.  I tried to bend over to get a book off the bottom shelf and bumped into someone.  I tried to flip through a picture book to see if it was worth checking out for my 5 year old and someone bumped into me.  The children’s section usually resembles a ghost town in the middle of the week at 11 am but, today there were people everywhere.  And right in the middle of it all, there was a line of about ten kids, their parents milling around not too far off, awaiting their little plastic prize for a few hours of reading over the last week.   It seems the annual summer reading program has invaded our nice, serene home-away-from-home making it less of a haven and more of a madhouse.  My son, coveting the opportunity to put his hand into the box of junk and pull out a cheap plastic toy, asked me what it was all about.  I explained what it was and told him that, no we were not going to sign up this year, though we have done it in years past.  Then, we quickly picked out another 40 books or so, and got out of the craziness as fast as we could.
    Now, I am certainly not against encouraging children to read.  I completely understand the motivation for a summer reading program, especially at the library.  However, I am a little saddened by it all.   I have always loved to read.  From as far back as I can remember, I have loved books.  I wish that all those children at the library, anxious to receive a reward for spending their free time with a book, would realize what I have always known.  The books, the stories themselves, are enough of a reward.  In fact, they are a much better reward than plastic tops or bouncy balls. 
    I wonder what it is that has convinced our children that reading is only a worthwhile activity if there is a prize attached to it.  We could blame video games, television, and overflowing activity calendars just to name a few- and I’m sure those things absolutely add to the problem.  I fear the biggest detriment to raising readers, though, is the books many children are given when they do decide to read.  I think a steady diet of Captain Underpants, Judy Moody, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid have stifled our children’s minds.   Good books, with thought provoking stories, just pull you in.  They interest you, intrigue you, challenge you to think about things differently and to consider things you may not have thought about before.  They change your perception of the world you live in and open up new worlds to you.  Books are amazing and children will devour them, if they are exposed to the ones that are worth their time.
    So, today at the library, we did not participate in the summer reading program because my children, like me and Tim, love to read for the sheer pleasure of reading.  The incentives would not change that, they would only add to the clutter around my house.  Whether they are rewarded externally for their reading or not, my children will pick up a good book and get lost in it any day of the week and any season of the year.  That, for me is the best reward!

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