I Love Books

We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty rewards–gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists or Phi Beta Kappa keys–in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.
-John Holt

This quote explains one of the reasons that homeschooling appeals to me. John Holt is one of the first advocates of homeschooling whose work I read. As I read through the first book of his I discovered, I found myself shouting, Yes! That’s it exactly!” And I kept smacking Rob and forcing him to wake up and listen to me read passages out of the book out loud, which he loved.

I do think that it is true that when you reward people, and children in particular, for doing things it makes whatever you are trying to encourage seem like it is something that is not rewarding enough on it’s own. This is why I generally stay away from the book reading rewards things that give a number to shoot for. What good is reading 150 books in a school year, if your focus is on the number not the quality or understanding that goes into truly appreciating literature. Isn’t reading and digesting and discussing a handful of books more important in the grand scheme of things?

Perhaps I am lucky. I have children who thrive in this loose sort of environment. They are all voracious readers, who often have things they can teach me. I know, it shocks me also!

Perhaps it is true that I am becoming lazy in my old age. Clinging less to the idealized notions of parenting that I once held so staunch and rigid. Maybe I have become more of a realist. Most likely it is a combination of the above.

To the point, today I was in Barnes&Noble and noticed their summer reading program. Read any 8 books, fill out the form, then come to the store and pick out your free book.*

And I decided that more than my idealized notions, I LOVE free things. I really, really do. So I weighed the ramifications of picking up these forms off of the table.

On one hand a free book for something that my children are already doing. On the other hand, it’s a book, not a movie pass or a trip to the roller rink** which sends the message that a book is something you must suffer through in order to earn something that is fun. On the other hand, why yes I do have three hands I am a mother remember, if I am truly trusting in my children as partners in their education, shouldn’t I give them a say about it?

And so I decided on the latter. I picked up the forms and brought them home.

They already want to know if we could go back this week and get their free books.

*from a limited selection, which, eh

** not that we have a roller rink near us, though I would love to go if they did and put my comb in my back pocket, feather my hair, and skate around listening to Endless Love and wondering why I don’t have aboyfriend who wants to roller skate next to me with our hands in each other’s back pockets.

13 Responses to “I Love Books”

  1. Lilly Says:

    Congratulations on the new site! I’ll be a regular visitor.

    I totally agree with the learning for the pleasure of learning and not for the reward philosophy. I chose a Montessori school for my son for just that reason…… And free books! Got to get in on that!

  2. Jennifer Says:

    I might just cry now. First, I was really hoping you’d eventually write about homeschooling. Second, my homeschooling has taken on a life of it’s own that is suddenly very unnatural and forced. I just finished writing about it! Reading this just reinforces that I need to take a fresh look at some things.

  3. the womom Says:

    Beautiful site.

    I just yesterday finished a great book I found at the library called “Doing School”–Denise Clark Pope
    What I liked about this book is that it wasn’t a push for homeschooling like many others, but instead chronicles 5 students who are “stars” in their highschool and points out the stress, anxiety and apathy they have towards school. Yet they are suceeding and their parents are ecstatic with their progress.

    I still have little-little ones, but the bigger little one is set to start Kindergarten in the fall. We moved specifically to be in this school district, but I strongly believe life is too short to not enjoy each and every part of it–especially learning.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

  4. Novaks8 Says:

    I agree.
    Here’s a story for you.

    When my oldest daughter was in grade 2, she had a WITCH for a teacher. She was a hateful mean lady who reportedly had a wooden leg.
    This woman chose one girl from the class to be her star and encouraged that girl to read read read so that she could win the limo ride at the end of the year.

    This woman wanted to win every contest there was.

    One day when I went to volunteer, she had this girl outside the classroom on the couch reading a stack of books, marking them off on her sheet to take the tests for.
    So, what did this girl (and the rest of the class) really learn?

    The funny thing is that with all that coaching and cheating (wasn’t that cheating?) my daughter was within 5 books of her. And my daughter read what she wanted, when she wanted.
    And the funniest? A kid from another class actually won the limo ride!

  5. T in HD Says:

    Another of your witty writings to add to my daily online reading. At this rate, I’ll never get to the laundry, housework, kids….

    You just put into words so well that strange feeling I got last year when my oldest came home from school with a “reading pass” booklet (or however that translates into English–not sure) to log in the number of minutes she spends reading a day which would be logged by her and signed by me. I think the goal was something like 10 minutes a day and once she reached a certain amount, she got a reward (can’t remember what). I laughed when I saw it. I really laughed. And I couldn’t put my finger on what bothered me about it until I read your post. A reward for doing something that my daughter already considers a treat? One of her favourite past-times? It seemed absurd to me because she would spend hours a day reading if life (and $#@! school) didn’t get in the way. Now I realize why it bothered me. It was sending her the message that reading was a chore. Something that should be rewarded. That’s like rewarding her for finishing her dessert!

    I’m envious you have the freedom to homeschool. Here in Germany it is illegal and parents are fined for it and thrown into jail for it (even nursing mums have been threatened with this). Children are taken from their homes by police and escorted to school. The police have the right to forcefully enter your home and search for your children if you are reported for not sending you children to school. It’s disgusting. I can’t wait to move to the U.S. In the meantime, I just hope and pray my childrens’ natural love of learning isn’t destroyed before then.

  6. Tina Says:

    Thank you for this. I had been wanting to ask you what made you decide to homeschool. I am sure that is the tip of the iceburg, but it was interesting and given me some things to think about.

    Oh, and your site looks VERY nice! :) I think I am actually delurking from both sites to say that–I enjoy both very much. When I was on vacation, I had fun reading the entire archives, and annoying/entertaining my in-laws reading from your posts. They liked what you wrote, just not me reading it outloud. ;-)

  7. Deb Says:

    Hurray! I have home/unschooled my 4 children until the oldest one chose to go to a charter alternative high school/college. I am so looking forward to hearing more about this particular aspect of “how you do it”.
    The website is gorgeous. How did you do THIS????

  8. sandra Says:

    I agree with everything you’ve said here. I’d like to add a couple of twists — just more food for thought from my perspective.

    I’ve talked about “bribing” with parents before. I’ve eventually come around to the belief that bribing is a part of life. We work to get a paycheck. We do less pleasant things (go to work) in exchange for more pleasant things (money). I’ll full-on admit that I bribe my daughter all the time, because it works. Not so much the do-this-and-you’ll-get-candy idea, but rather the good-behavior-merits-special-surprises kind of thing. Threats do not work with her; promises for rewards do. All this to say: every kid is different in his or her motivation (as you no doubt know ten times over, or seven times over).

    I grew up a voracious reader. I truly believe I was wired that way since reading was not exactly encouraged in my house. Similarly, I believe that some kids can be wired the opposite. I live in fear of either of my children growing up not liking to read, but if that happens I want to know how to deal with it. (My husband and already read constantly ourselves, so ideally the modeling will come into play. Ideally.)

    I’m not saying I’m in favor of these “contests” and promoting reading as something to be slogged through rather than enjoyed and savored. But for kids who don’t enjoy and savor naturally, I think reasonable (emphasis on “reasonable”) incentives are helpful to get their gears oiled so reading becomes more habitual.

    I’m not against homeschooling at all. I love the idea of it and I think it can work wonderfully, especially in light of all the stupid changes that have taken place in the public school system in the past couple decades. I’m just against ME homeschooling. I would be a very bad homeschooling mom! :)

  9. sandra Says:

    I also want to add that I don’t see homeschooling or out-of-home schooling as an either or. Myself, I hope to make up for the various shortcomings of out-schooling by still, shall we say, “homeschooling” as a daily part of life. Promoting curiosity, getting the kids to dig for questions, etc. It’s an integral part of our parenting — as it is, I’m sure, for many other parents.

  10. anthonysmom2000 Says:

    I love reading your blogs. I’ve even referred my friends. I live vicariously through your large family. If I had a husband that could successfully keep a roof over our heads (oh, and health insurance) on his own, I too, would have a large brood and teach ‘em all myself. We’ve been asked to leave the snooty montessori school because my son is too curious. (imagine that– too curious for school??)

    I’m still sad for myself reading your post. I may not continue to read this particular blog, because not everyone has the blessed opportunity you do…I hope you manage to convince lots of moms who can to home school. I wish you the best.

  11. The Lazy Organizer Says:

    It’s all so true. I especially loved Punished By Rewards by Alfie Kohn. That book has single-handedly changed my parenting. My children need to learn from their mistakes and sucesses not be punished or rewarded for them.

  12. Julie Says:

    I second the recommendation for Alfie Kohn’s book Punished by Rewards. He makes quite a convincing argument against using bribes and tokens. I also suggest (if you’re interested in the topic) Kohn’s newest book Unconditional Parenting. Wow, talk about pulling the rug out from underneath all my manipulative parenting strategies!

    On the other hand, maybe I don’t recommend reading it because it makes me feel guity for using time-outs and rewards, but he sure makes sense. One study he quotes found that children who were rewarded and praised for being generous actually became less generous as a result. Anyway, it’s worth reading if you’ve got the spare time between your remarkable feats of child-juggling and multi-tasking. Here’s the website if you’ve just got a moment to spare :|


  13. Daisy Says:

    I am an unusual animal — a public school teacher with friends who homeschool. Parents are a child’s first and last teachers; whether you homeschool or send them to a formal brick-and-mortar building, your influence will always be important. I love your attitude about finding a suitable reward, such as books for reading! My favorite classroom rewards for students are “cool” notebooks, pencils, and always, free books of their very own.