Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Making a Deal With the Devil

Confession Time: We don't just sit around here reading books all the time like a satellite branch of the library. Truth be told, Bookivore's two oldest children received Nintendo DS Lites for Christmas (though not from Bookivore and her husband, who are stingy, Scrooge-like parents bent on stuffing their kids' stockings with coal. Or socks. Same thing.) This year, Grandma and Grandpa came through and there was much rejoicing.

After a few days, we noticed that our son was playing so much DS that he was barely making time to eat. Or sleep. Or talk. In fact, he barely came up for air at all, so engrossed was he in this video game thingy. At night, when we'd offer to read to him, he asked if he could play his DS while we read.


Then Lo! School resumed, and the DS had to be nearly surgically removed from my son's hands since his school has a total ban on video games. What a great opportunity to explain what confiscate means!

All day I pondered what I was going to say to him when he got home and wanted to play DS until bedtime -- too much game, too little of the other stuff he needs to do (eat, talk, read, play using his imagination, sleep, etc.). In the end, I made a list of chores that he had to get done before he played with his DS. This included things like put away laundry, feed the dog, and one item that sent him right into the stratosphere: Read for 20 minutes.

WHAT!!? Didn't I know that he does this reading stuff at school?? Why on earth would I make him also do it at home?

He was mad, but he was also motivated. That DS was a powerful lure. So he manned-up and found a book about football and read aloud to me while I made dinner.

It was wonderful. And it earned him 20 minutes of DS.

If your child has an interest like this -- TV, video games, building with Legos -- use it to your advantage. Make them "buy" activity time with reading minutes. First and second graders can read to you for about 20 minutes (longer if you feel their reading skills can handle it, but don't make it so hard for them that it's not worth the reward). Older kids who are reading well independently can start with a half hour. This kind of consistent, daily reading leads to breakthroughs in fluency -- and the more fluent they are as readers, the more meaning they'll get out of what they read because they're not spending as much time decoding (sounding things out). Reading improvement doesn't happen in a vacuum, it's like playing the piano or learning to type; you have to practice. And most kids need a nudge in the practice department.

It's kind of a deal with the devil, but much much better than your average Faustian bargain.

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