Last year, I started a game with my kids called the Book Can Contest. It was an incentive to read. They both love books, but our busy life and technology always seemed to get in the way of a good book.
I admit, that although I consider myself to be an avid reader, I wasn’t exactly setting the right example for my kids. We read bedtime stories every night and sometimes even sit down with a book mid-afternoon, but I wasn’t doing much reading of my own. My kids rarely, if ever, saw me reading my own books. (I tend to read in bed before going to sleep.)
In this age of technology, screens, too many toys, and way too much distraction, the way to raise a reader is to read to them, with them, and on your own in front of them.
It was probably a lot easier to establish a reading habit—and therefore a love of books—when I was a kid because my parents had less to contend with. There were fewer things competing for my attention.
This generation of kids needs a very clear example and lots of guidance to get them to the same state of book loving.
Enter the Book Can Contest.
When we did this last year, every time my kids read a book, they got to fill out a ballot to put in the Book Can—a can I decorated with pictures of books and sayings from our favourite books. I’m a book geek. What can I say?
On the ballot, they would record the name of the book, their name and the date they read the book. For Big Sister who is into reading novels, she would also record the chapter that she had read. (One full chapter qualified for a ballot. The objective was to get them to read of their own accord, so small successes were celebrated. We worked our way up from there.)
On Friday mornings, we would draw a ballot from the can and the winner would get a prize. The more you read, the more ballots you had in the can and the more chances you had at winning the prize. My husband and I got involved, too, which made the competition a little more interesting.
Prizes included a new book, 30 minutes with Mommy to do whatever the winner wanted, same deal with Daddy, winner’s choice for dinner, 30 minutes of TV during the week, a chocolate bar, free pass on a chore, a trip to the dollar store with $2 to spend, dessert during the week, staying up late one day on the weekend, a lollipop, among other things.
We tried to come up with prizes that didn’t add more “stuff” to our lives. Experiences, free passes on chores and screen time (my kids get very little to begin with), decisions they weren’t usually in charge of making; these were the things we wanted to encourage them with. Your imagination is the limit when it comes to these kinds of prizes and the possibilities are endless.
To make the prize fair, I also wrote all the prize options on ballots and put them in a separate bag. Whoever won the Book Can Contest that week would then get to draw the prize for next week’s contest. We posted all this on the wall above our kitchen table so that it was visible all the time (a great reminder).
We had fun reading and winning for about five months, but then contest fatigue set in and we missed the draw a couple of weeks in a row. Then summer came and life became less routine and more relaxed. And that was the end of the Book Can Contest.
I was sad to see it go, but sometimes we have to move onto the next best thing.
For a while, we didn’t have a reading incentive—and that’s not a bad thing. Both my kids love books. One’s a reader already and the other one is in the phase of grasping reading concepts like letter combinations and decoding and that words represent visuals and are used to tell a story. He’s doing really great at it. No sense rushing him through this phase.
It can be such a fun phase if you allow the time for it. He loves to tell me about the stories he has “read” and though he describes them mostly the same every time, his powers of observation are slightly more improved or different each day and sometimes the story he tells from the book he has “read” is more elaborate and detailed because he has noticed some new thing in its pages. But generally speaking, he’s telling the story that is actually depicted in the pages of his book. Actually reading the words will follow closely on the heals of this step. But I’ll miss this phase once he can read. We are having so much fun telling stories from the pictures!
With his new-found appreciation of books and stories, he recently suggested that we revive the Book Can Contest to track how much we were reading. I thought maybe we should try a new incentive game or chart. So, I came up with the Reading Road chart.
The Reading Road is a picture I drew (very crudely in Microsoft Paint) that looks like a road, and along the road there are lines on which to record the titles of the books one is reading. The reader starts at the beginning of the road and works his or her way to the end of the road. Once there, the reader is entitled to a prize set out at the beginning of the reading journey. Because my kids love books so much, they usually choose a new book as their prize.
It has really taken off. I also plan to use the Reading Road charts to encourage reading on specific topics. We’re big into our local library and visit a couple times a week at least. Often, a particular topic catches Big Sister or Little Brother’s interest and we’ll stock up on books that feed that interest.
What sometimes happens, though, is the books will come home and get put in our library pile and only a few will be read (the ones they like the most). Despite encouragement from me, the other books will languish in the pile until their return date. By using the Reading Road chart, there is an incentive to read all of the books they picked out on that particular topic at the library. I know it’s not a big deal if a book is borrowed from the library and not devoured voraciously, but to me it’s akin to buying food and letting it rot in the fridge. Why would you do that? My motto is: if you’re not going to use it, don’t take it.
So here’s what we use to track our reading (and practice our penmanship for those of us still in the early learning stages):
Here’s the PDF of the Reading Road Chart. Feel free to use it for your kids. If you do use it, let me know how it goes in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter. Use the hashtag #LTOReadingRoad.