Sunday, May 20, 2012

Rewarding Reading by Dr. Danny Brassell

Rewarding Reading

Parents and teachers always ask me how they can reward their children for reading. Well, the first reward I recommend is candy. Kids love candy. If candy does not do the trick, I recommend soda – preferably something highly caffeinated. Pizza is also a wonderful tool to convince a kid to read, and if your child still needs motivation, I have found that $20-$50 goes a long way in motivating a child to read.

Hopefully, you have guessed that I am being facetious. Kids are not stupid. They know that if you have to bribe them to read, reading is not worth doing for its own sake. By bribing students for reading you are sending exactly the wrong message. I love that Pizza Hut sponsors the “Book It!” program, and if I ever bump into the CEO of Pizza Hut I am going to make a suggestion. The way the “Book It!” program works is kids read lots of books and get rewarded with pizza. If I were running the program, I would take exactly the opposite approach: every time a child came into my Pizza Hut to eat pizza, I’d reward that child with a book. It is a subtle difference, but a significant one. Reading should not be rewarded; reading should be the reward.

Parents can greatly assist educators in creating a passion for reading in their children. Subtle messages about the “joys of reading” can do wonders in prompting even the most reluctant of young readers. There are all sorts of ways you can make reading rewarding for your child.

Reward Children with Books. Buy books and other reading materials for your child. In my experiences helping parents, educators and children find their passion for reading, a multitude have reflected on the importance of books they were give as gifts (especially those with an inscription from the gift-giver). In fact, many adults have told me how they own those books to this day (I know I have books that my parents gave me as gifts). Make sure you give children books that they want to read. I mean, I love Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, but your preschooler might prefer Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Praise Children Frequently. Praise your child frequently so your child associates reading with pleasure. Praise and encouragement cost nothing, yet I fear they are severely under-utilized. The more you help your child feel she is a good reader, the better she will become. A lot of adult readers share with me that they began to love reading the moment they felt they were good at it. Translation: help your child feel like a confident reader.

Thrifty Treasures. You can find a ton of wonderful rewards at any Dollar Tree or 99 Cent Store, including coloring books, writing materials, journals, books, stickers, etc.  While many of these items may seem “beneath” a lot of adults, I have witnessed my own children get into World War III over a 50 cent pencil sharpener. How does the saying go? One person’s trash is another’s treasure? Trust me: it does not take a lot to excite a preschooler or kindergartner. If you’re going to give a physical reward to your child for reading, try to make the reward something they can associate with reading (rather than a toy gun).

Reward Children with Reading Time. Tell your children that if they finish all of their chores, stay out of fights with their sisters, etc., that you will read aloud an extra story to them or read under a tent in the living room or let them stay up fifteen minutes later to read. Allow your child to read whatever, whenever and with whomever he wants (you can quote me on that). You’re trying to constantly intimate to your child that reading is the ultimate reward.

Get Children Library Cards. Remember public libraries? Despite the best efforts of local governments to close them all down, they still remain as essential safe havens and community meeting places. Train your children how to use the library and obtain materials for themselves. Better yet, make library visits a regular weekly outing. You’ll find that most public libraries offer a variety of children’s programs, including book clubs, guest read alouds, storytime for toddlers and even guest appearances by favorite literary characters and local authors.

Read Aloud in Bed. My children do not realize they can go to sleep without reading a book. Probably my most treasured moments with my children is spent reading aloud with them in my bed. It is a privilege my children cherish (so does their daddy). However, my children know that the better they behave, the more books and chapters we get to read aloud in bed. Am I manipulative? Yes, but there’s worse ways to brainwash my children.

It seems to me that common sense ain’t so common nowadays. Whenever I see parents and educators trying to entice kids to read with promises of goodies, I cringe. A better approach would be to offer reading materials as goodies. Send the message daily that there is nothing more fun than reading, and pretty soon your child will begin to believe it. Sir William of Occam in the 14th century developed a theory known as “Occam’s Razor,” which basically says that the simplest solutions usually provide the best results. Getting a kid to read is not some chore that requires incentives. Reading should be a luxury that you and your children can enjoy for a lifetime.

Danny Brassell, Ph.D., is “America’s Leading Reading Ambassador,” helping parents and educators inspire kids to love reading so they’ll achieve more. A father of three and professor in the Teacher Education Department at California State University-Dominguez Hills, he is the founder of The Lazy Readers’ Book Club,, Google’s #1-ranked site for cool, “short book recommendations” for all ages. Watch video tips and learn more from Danny at


  1. I love your statement that "Reading should not be rewarded; reading should be the reward." We definitely found reading to be the reward in our family. We often gave books as gifts and all loved to read. We didn't think of trying to reward our kids for reading, since we all found so much happiness in reading aloud and reading individually anyway.

    Great suggestions for making sure the emphasis is in the right place! I pinned your post to my Literature-Based Activities Pinterest board at

  2. I absolutely agree that reading 'is' the reward. I use a lot the "Reward Children with and extra Reading Time". I make a big fuss of it. They get soooo excited.
    Another thing I do is when I take my students to the library (3 times a week) I encourage them to choose books for me to read in class so I always have this this pile of books on a special place 'waiting to be read'. They love it.

  3. I was going to say the same thing as Deb, I love that statement too! Reading SHOULD be the reward! I give books as gifts quite often and try to spread the joy and love of reading with others!

    I also love the Thrifty Treasures you shared.You are so right,it does not take a lot to excite a preschooler or kindergartner. Each year for Christmas, I either get my students a book or a notepad with color pen.

    Thank you for Sharing Danny!


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