She Hurts My Soul

We’re doing a summer reading challenge at my house with #2-#5. We let #1 off the hook because she done graduated.

Schools send home a suggested summer reading list with the kids on- wait, I don’t actually know when they do this. Last day of school? It doesn’t seem the list would have a very good shot at making it home if that were the case. Second-t0-last day of school? Do they mail it the week after school gets out? I have no idea. I only know that the list for each kid always makes it up onto either the bulletin board or the fridge, with one exception.

I’m lookin’ at you, #4.

Not that all the other kids eagerly hit their summer reading lists before they start sleeping til noon, eating popsicles for breakfast, and staying in their pajamas until dinnertime. The only one who reads voluntarily even if we’re not having a power outage is #2.

But their lists always go up. Then we commence ten weeks of them not reading anything on their lists, and me using ineffective methods of trying to get them to read.

This is baffling to me. My mom used to have to force me away from my books.

This year I gave each kid a certain number of pages to read every day, the equivalent of twenty to thirty minutes of reading. It’s what they supposedly do anyway during the school year.

There’s even a reward: if they all meet their page goals I’ll buy them a new Wii game. No, the irony is not lost on me. Get off my ass.

Here’s our progress:

  • Immediately after we started the challenge, #2 went away to volleyball camp at the Naval Academy. Even while playing approximately 187,046 minutes of volleyball every single day, she finished her entire six weeks of reading in ten days.
  • #3 dug into her list and our bookshelves and found some things she liked. This is a first. She stayed up late many nights reading, not texting boys. I know this with certainty because her phone is broken. She liked The Lovely Bones and The Maze Runner. She finished last week.
  • #4 acted as if I were asking her to strangle kittens instead of read.
  • #5 loves the Magic Tree House books. They were on his list last year, but I think this late interest is a result of him being a full year younger than most of his classmates. I’m cool with that. He likes to come into our room to read because it’s quiet.
  • #4 now isn’t even keeping up with lying to me about reading.

After the first week of the challenge, all the kids give me updates. #4 tries to escape. I call her back into the kitchen.

Me: How’s your reading?

#4: Good.

Me: How much have you read?

#4: Um. I don’t know.

Me, narrowing my eyes at her: Have you read at all?

#4: Yes! I was just in my room for twenty minutes reading!

Me: Well, what’s going on in your book?

#4: Um, I can’t remember.

I make her bring it to me. The book is a challenge for her, which is the point. She’s heading into sixth grade and needs to step up. I try to come up with ideas to help. I tell her that as long as she makes an honest effort, I’ll count it. She can fall short of the goal, but if she’s trying, we can work something out. She reads nine pages out loud to me while we’re in the kitchen. It’s a good book.

I think that’s the last time she reads.

I got home from work the other night and found this:

Her jotted-down user name and password for a kids online gaming/virtual world site.



You hurt my soul, #4.

Not to be a total doomsayer, but I’m fairly confident she won’t miraculously bust out her reading chops over the next two weeks. Overall, the challenge has been a success: two of three kids who swore they hated to read are liking reading.

#4 is a happy, well-adjusted, smart kid with good grades who would just rather be swimming or skateboarding or pretty much anything else besides reading. She has a ton of friends and whenever she gets in trouble, it’s usually hilarious. Not a bad place to be, really.

But what about the reading challenge reward? The deal was that all kids had to make their goals to get the Wii game. I can’t very well get a game and be all like, “Don’t let your sister play it!”

I’m open to ideas (unless you live in this house and I refer to you by number, in which case a suggestion such as “Give them their own Wii and TV in their rooms!” will just earn you extra chores).

How do I reward the kids who made their reading goals?


35 thoughts on “She Hurts My Soul

  1. A lot of public libraries have great reading programs with cool prizes, it worked for a couple of years for my son.
    Those reading lists are a joke. It looks like schools are afraid of demanding tasks for students. The best list I found is in the Dangerous Book for Boys- blog post is planned 🙂 (I do not know anything about the girls’ one). American Library Association lists sucked – especially from the recent years, the books’ descriptions made me cringe.

  2. We also do a summer reading challenge. Everyone who reaches their goal (which is pretty similar to your family’s, depending on age), gets a daytrip with the family to the nearby amusement park on Labor Day weekend. Those that don’t, don’t. It’s been a close crunch a couple of times, and last year, #1 Son finished his final required book on the way to said amusement park, but it works! Good luck!

  3. You’ve kind of backed yourself into a corner. You could turn this into a lesson in teamwork though. They didn’t make it, so the Wii game is out, BUT because the ones who DID succeed, succeeded, they get something personal to them. This, of course, can be marketed as your original Plan B all along, because us Mums never change our minds and we are always prepared for any contingency!

    This way they learn that with teamwork, it is an all or nothing thing, but they also learn individual effort is rewarded. Well, that is my theory – I’m not sure if any of the parental psychology we apply ever really works!! 😆

  4. I agree with Team Oyenini. Give something personal to the kids who met their goals and tell them that’s been Plan B all along. I sure hope #4 will still catch up though…

    1. When I first saw your comment, I read “trade the kids in at college.” Which is another idea altogether. I like the arcade idea, but I think I have to go to bed now.

  5. I’m not a parent, so I won’t offer a suggestion on how to reward. I will instead make these observations: I have three younger sisters, and only one of them shares my love of reading. The other two hate it, always have and possibly always will. (Sister 1 and BIL 1 both hate reading, which meant that when the Twin Nephs were on their way, BIL 1 told me it was my job to get them books, and he would just give them sharp things to run around with.)

    I don’t know that there’s a way to enforce a love (or even mild affection) for reading. Some minds just aren’t geared for it. And I personally think summer reading lists are unfair to the kids; it’s like homework when they’re supposed to be off. Who wouldn’t dig in their heels at that? I’ll grant with absolute certainty that kids who like to read do better in school and in white collar professions… but sometimes that dog just won’t hunt. Final observation: as much as I love reading, I still hated to read something I was forced to read, and I would think it would only discourage any chance at developing an affinity for it. So, um, I guess what I’m saying is, Good luck with that. (Inspiring, eh?)

    1. I’m totally at the “good luck with that” point. You can’t enforce a love of reading; it’s either there, or it’s not. The lists they send home are optional, except for high school. I just wanted to give it my best shot before giving up. I’m concerned about #4 because I think she’s got a rude awakening in store regarding what’s expected of her in middle school.

  6. The photo of #4 with the cake reminds me so much of my (step)son – facial expression and hands on hips- that it made me smile and wish he were here.
    Personally, I think the siblings need to be peer pressuring their uncooperative sister. She made a choice that affects her siblings, and there are consequences for that kind of selfishness.
    I have found that reluctant readers sometimes will go for humor, especially dark humor. Maybe her siblings can choose books that they think she will like.

    1. You’re not the only one that thinks the peer pressure thing might work. I’ll see if they’ll try it. I had some really excellent books recommended for her. I’m having a great time reading them.

  7. Totally agree on the comment that forced reading takes all the fun out of it – in fact, it’s why I went from reading a book a day as a kid to just a few a year as an adult! As a young teen, I always felt like I ‘had’ to read certain things, and had to finish it once I started it, even if I hated it. (Fortunately Harry Potter came out when I was in my later teens and brought the joy back into reading, but Harry Potters are hard to come by! Good thing for blogs like yours :o)

    I think a day trip is a good reward for the kids who completed their lists: an arcade or amusement park or tubing or something like that! Not sure if that’s too mean to #4, though – she seems like a great kid and I love a good username and password joke!

    Great post!! Sorry for the elaborate comment, LOL, I’m on my third cup of coffee today.

    1. Can you believe that only the two oldest kids will read Harry Potter? That hurts my soul too. I like the trip idea. But while we go, she would be with her friends, swimming and playing video games and wouldn’t feel like she’s missing out. Unless I send her your way for a day full of forced labor.

  8. As a former teacher and parent of one child who liked to read, and another who didn’t but now that she is older loves to read…(I need to take a breath after all that), I am going to stick my neck out here.
    #1 I have not seen the lists, nor do I know what the practice is in your area, but I believe that these are supposed to be “suggested” reading lists, not mandatory devices of torture.
    #2 “We let #1 off the hook” is a dead giveaway that this is not a fun experience, BTW.
    #3 Let the kids pick out their own books at least some of the time, and let some of them be from the non-fiction section. Some kids will go nuts reading on a subject that they are interested in, but are indifferent fiction readers.
    #4 THIS ONE IS IMPORTANT PARENTS! Yes, I am yelling. I want you to hear this loud and clear everybody. Don’t stop reading to your children once they begin to read for themselves!!!! Choose something ahead of what they can read themselves, or a bit longer, and read to them! The most important indicator of future academic success is whether a child has been read to consistently. It helps them to enjoy reading rather than having it always be work. (I can provide examples if desired.) No, you do not have to read to each one individually
    #5 Once they begin to read don’t insist that they HAVE to tackle the whole thing themselves. I started before they could read by assigning them a word or two. Every time I hesitated, they knew it was time to add their word. Next we would read every other word, or every other sentence, and finally every other page.
    #6 Your child’s reading level is not the same as the level at which they can decode words. A true reading level is where a child can sound out AND understand what they are reading. Kids should be reading only a little ahead of that level some of the time. This is another reason to read to them, because they can understand books that are more sophisticated than ones that they can read to themselves.
    Class is dismissed, but there may be homework!
    (Yes, I know this is a post in itself, but I don’t have a blog on this topic to write it on!)

    1. Are you kidding? I can totally see Mother Hen doing this. Except for high school the lists are suggested reading, not mandatory, and only one kid chose one book from the list. This was my effort to have them read more than the jokes on the popsicle sticks this summer. And it worked for two out of three. I do still read to both the 11-year old and the 8-year old separately, and anyone else (um, of my kids, not just random passers-by) is welcome to sit in. I like your final point about having the understanding of what they’re reading, because I feel like that’s one of the reasons #4 doesn’t like to read. She can’t keep her attention on it long enough to understand. But she can focus on an art project, a softball game, a movie, or a video game fully for a long time, no problem.

      1. I agree with Leanne that having older kids read to younger ones is a good idea. We used to have a programs in our school that matched an older grade with a younger one for reading time. The kids were paired up, and read together.
        We used to pile on our bed before bedtime, cuddle up and I would read something like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or Mr. Popper’s Penguins, or my personal favorite, Tuck Everlasting to my tribe. the cuddling helped to create a positive experience, even though my youngest was doing handstands off of the side of the bed half the time. “I AM listening, Mom!”)
        Hey, the car manual is reading too! Maybe he would read car magazines, or books about NASCAR drivers. Many older kids will read from the sports section of the newspaper. Non-fiction reading counts, too!

  9. I am maybe horrible for suggesting this but can you get the other kids to pressure her to finish a book? Maybe just one…so they can all get the wii and enjoy it and you don’t have to be the only one on #4’s back? Many reasons this may not work, just thought I’d throw it out there.
    Everyone is doing great. I’m impressed by and excited for you guys.
    My son loves those Magic Tree House books. He also just started the Lemony Snicket series last night.

    1. I think I’ll try the others pressuring her this week. Maybe one of them will have a good idea too. Glad to hear your son likes the Lemony Snickett books, I’ll have to try them out on #5.

  10. Neither of my kids liked reading which I have always found really odd as I’ve always got my head in a book.
    I tried youngest on the Horrible History magazines to try and get him more interested.. nothing like a cartoon version of blood and gore to get a boy engrosed.
    My eldest I officially gave up when he came home with a car manual and read that.
    How old is #4? Has she tried any Garth Nix? I quite liked the Abhorsen series and I know I’m an adult but it got me utterly engrossed ( and isn’t too big to make you think OMG I’m never going to finish it ).
    Good luck with the whole treat thing – that is one thing I don’t envy you for!

    1. Sorry to be repetitive but I just realized that this comment belonged here.
      Hey, the car manual is reading too! Maybe he would read car magazines, or books about NASCAR drivers. Many older kids will read from the sports section of the newspaper. Non-fiction reading counts, too!

  11. I applaud your efforts to encourage your children to read!

    I like the idea of letting the children pick their own books when possible. My children often would read multiple books from a particular series or author that they liked.

    Have you tried books on tape/CD? The only ones that we tried were Harry Potter, but Jim Dale does an incredible job with these books, and it is almost like watching the movies. Just an idea….

    If #4 just won’t read, will she write? Maybe give her the option of spending an equal amount of time writing her own stories. This allows her to use many of the same skills as reading but might be more enjoyable for her.

    Let us know how it turns out with the reward!

Comment. It gives me a reason not to clean my house.

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