Growing Bookworms Newsletter: November 15: Choice in Learning, #GraphicNovels as "Real" Reading, and Harry Potter
Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: November 17: #Cybils #Reviews, #Math in Preschool, and "Dessert Books"

Rekindling Intrinsic Motivation After Extrinsic Rewards Damage It

Last summer a mother lamented to me that her son, who had been a big reader during the school year, wasn't reading over the summer. She said that this was because he was no longer getting AR points for his books. So, whereas the previous summer he had always had a book in his hand, this summer he did not. The difference being that that he had been reading for AR points during the school year. [See my other post about AR.]

I've been occasionally mulling over this question ever since. More recently, I talked with another couple about this subject. These were parents who have older children and who have been through a similar experience. They said that they had to create some loose incentives for their kids during the summers, once AR tracking started in earnest. "Read 500 pages and get some reward" - that sort of thing. I imagine this is a reason why many parents enroll their kids in summer reading programs. To insert extrinsic motivation (you read and then you get something) when the intrinsic motivation (you read because love it) has faded.

These things probably work, at least to some extent, in making kids read over the summer. But it seems to me that this problem will get worse and worse over subsequent summers. What I wonder is this: is there a way to rekindle intrinsic motivation in someone who has become dependent on extrinsic rewards? Can we ever get them back to reading for its own sake? I don't have any definitive answers, but I do have some thoughts. 

Obviously, the ideal big picture solution is to keep your child from becoming dependent on outside rewards in the first place. [I personally don't enroll my daughter in summer reading programs for this reason.] But what can you do if you are already there?

You can do the usual things that I and many others have recommended for raising readers: read aloud, take your child to the library, subscribe to magazines that suit their interests, set an example by reading yourself, listen to audiobooks in the car, keep print books everywhere, and limit screen time, to name a few. 

LunchLadyReadingWhat I would add is that if your child was previously an avid reader, perhaps you can turn to nostalgia. If your child was into Harry Potter last summer, but has yet to pick up the next book this summer, try watching all of the movies for the books that he's already read. Do not offer the movies of any unread books. Find some subtle way to remind the child of how happy he was previously when reading. Are there photos? Bring them out. I'm going to be prepared to break out the photo shown to the left in the future, if my daughter ever needs reminding. Are there favorite titles for which you only had library copies? Buy one. Break out your family's favorite picture books and allow yourself to be spotted reading them. Your previously internally motivated child is still in there -- see if you can draw her back out.

If you are dealing with a child who has never been intrinsically motivated to read, then the challenge is harder. Here what I might try is extrinsic rewards that are experience-based, rather than stuff-based, and related to the books being read. "After you read this book about a kid surviving in the wild, we'll go on a camping trip." That sort of thing. It seems like this would create positive associations with reading in a more nuanced way than just "read 100 pages and I'll give you a dollar".

I would also highly recommend trying to create some sort of family reading routine. Maybe read aloud an old family favorite together at bedtime. Or initiate family D.E.A.R. time, when everyone reads the book or magazine of his or her choice. Start a project and borrow books related to that project: dig a garden, build a shed, plan a trip. The idea here is again to create positive associations with reading. You don't want "I read and I feel happy because I got a sticker from the library." You want instead "The time that my family and I spent listening to that book together in the car made us closer, and now we have all these fun inside jokes" or "Reading snuggled up on the couch next to my mom, with each of reading our own book, was a nice way to spend time every afternoon before dinner." 

We choose to spend time doing what we enjoy. We want our kids to spend time reading because they love it, not because they got a sticker or got a certain number of points next to their name on the board. If your child has lost that internal motivation to read, the path back could be to remind her of why she used to enjoy it, and/or show her why it's enjoyable now. That's what makes sense to me, anyway. 

Does anyone else have direct experience with this issue that you can share? 

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook