Monday, June 6, 2011

Gold Stars

My daughter and I recently participated in a 5K fundraiser at her school.  I was worried that I might need a cattle prod to coax her to the finish line, so I was very proud of her for achieving consistent forward motion at a reasonable pace.  At the finish line, Kate's best friend (who, at barely 6, ran every step of the race!) netted a ribbon, a medal, and a trophy.  Kate, meanwhile, had nothing but the pride of accomplishment.  This was not nearly enough, I discovered, as she burst into pitiful tears.  When I told her she'd done a good job, she sobbed, "No, I didn't!  If I didn't get anything, I didn't do a good job!"

Many parents I know bemoan the everyone-gets-a-trophy school of childrearing that seems so prevalent these days.  I hate it, too.  But the truth is -- I always liked my gold stars and worked hard to earn them.  I do get it.

Carmela's marvelous post on writing buddies also made mention of gold stars.  As writers, most of us must work hard at devising self-motivation strategies to get through the long and lonely slogging of getting and revising and re-revising a draft.  As teachers, we also expend endless energy on developing strategies to motivate our students to be interested, engaged, and -- dare we hope? -- enthusiastic.  My college-age students STILL find an occasional chocolate reward to be excellent incentive.

To this end, our local library has a summer reading incentive program, and this is the first year my daughter has been old enough to participate.   Read a certain number of minutes, visit the library enough times, and you get a prize, or two, or three.  I have to confess to mixed feelings about this.  Shouldn't we want to read for the sheer pleasure of the experience?  On the other hand... perhaps encouraging reading will result in a love that grows irrespective of the prize but might never have developed without it. 

How do you teachers feel about these types of rewards?  Do they seem to work over the long term? 
Ironically, I find that the reward I most love to give myself at the end of a long workday (besides a nice, tall margarita) is some time in bed with a good book.  Off to pour myself a margarita right now...  And tonight I am reading Uma Krishnaswami's latest after our fab library trip today -- it is so, so good!


Martha said...

Summer reading programs were always a plus at our house. Yes, there were some incentives, book marks or a free ice cream or maybe a t-shirt, but the real incentive was the sense of accomplishment that went with the new level of ability each year. It was a part of summer, and we went regularly to the library and won the prizes, and it was simply fun!
I have to admit a backwards yearning for it now that the kids are past it, but here is the real reward: my son, after his first year of college, took a trip to the library on his own initiative and came home with some summer reading books of his own choosing. At night he finds a quiet spot in the house and keeps reading. That is the real incentive behind the summer reading program, and the real prize, too!

Kristin said...

I understand the power and importance of rewards to kids, but that doesn't mean I have to like them. My kids' school does a reading challenge program where every so often, after reading a certain number of minutes, the kids get a medal; at the end of the year there's a celebration for all those who have achieved whatever amount of minutes. The reading people hate me because I refuse to count minutes, log minutes, force Ben to read the inane books they send home with him...I'd rather he read things of his own choosing because he wants the pure enjoyment of the story. I feel that giving rewards for reading makes it into work. (And what kid wants to work -- especially in the summer?) Plus, when the rewards stop, does the desired behavior stop, too? Or does the behavior continue because kids have discovered the joy of reading? Mine already own that.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

I am for anything that makes a child read. I actively encouraged the reading of comic books in my son's lives. I paid them to write. (a penny a word. two pennies a word if they edited.) Results. They read. They wrote a lot. and I was happy. My five year old granddaughter and I write books together. She tells me the story and I type it.
As to the gold stars. As humans we want and need praise for EXACTLY who we are. I am always delighted when a school find a way of making this happen.

Gretchen Woelfle said...

As JM admitted, we grown-ups like our gold stars too. How many of us would continue at our jobs if we didn't get a paycheck? As an author I (mostly) write for the love of it, but I can name the book awards I've won because they are hanging on the wall in my office! Rewards and awards show kids that an achievement is valued and if it's reading, all the better.

Jessica Ferguson said...

Gold stars--I knew something was missing from my life. :) Reading your post I couldn't help but think how excited I am just to get an email rejection. That means they didn't hit the delete button. Guess that might be the equivalent of a gold star. :)

Good post. I agree that anything that will get young people reading or motivated is a good thing.

Sabrina Mock-Rossi said...

Great post! It is a bit of a dilemma. We do want our kids (students) working hard, reading a lot, writing, getting good grades - even cleaning their rooms - because they are intrinsicly motivated to do so. But the reality is we all like recognition for our efforts. It feels good. Life is short. Why not make it as fun and rewarding as possible? What better cause to celebrate than reading?

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

I'm a little relieved to know that I'm not the only one who needs a few plaudits to keep me going. My daughter told us the other day, in the midst of being reprimanded for bad behavior, that she needs more compliments. We compliment pretty liberally, but somehow it's the negative that tends to stick with us, isn't it? Thanks for the feedback.
Pen and Ink, what a great story about your granddaughter! My daughter is very enthused about writing right now, and I have to admit, I love it. :)

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Mrs. Weingarten, your post gave me a big smile -- love picturing a strapping 6'7" college athlete curled up with a good book.