When kids fall in love with reading

October seems to be all about reading. I’m not sure how this has gone international: I understand October is National Reading Group Month in the USA, and November is National Novel Writing Month. But here in Singapore, both our kids school and the American Club children’s library are hosting October reading events for kids. They tally the number of pages read, and the results count either for charitable fund-raising or for a prize. These kinds of things always leave me a bit ambivalent: one would like to think that such contests would encourage reading, but if the child puts the effort in just to win, and doesn’t come out on top, does it backfire and leave them embittered? There are good arguments that it might.

Our kids are six and eight, which put them in the same age bracket for the American Club contest. Tough luck for the six year olds. Nora, our youngest, shows an impressive willingness to challenge herself and practice, and doesn’t seem the least concerned with winning. When we watch her read, she works her way methodically through large words and sentences, and then repeats them to make sure she gets everything right. It’s thrilling to watch. Louise, our eight year old, likes contests she might win, and like many kids can be pretty sad upon losing. Early signs were that she might like this one. She took to the contest so quickly we kept returning to the American Club to check out more books. Early in the month, she was reading at least a book a day of roughly 100 pages, so we thought she might break 3,000 pages in the month if she kept it up. We kept silent. Then she accelerated, reading more books, and bigger books, and we thought she might break 5,000 pages.

Now here’s the thing: at 5,000 pages, an eight year old has a lot on the line if she’s been pushing herself just to win the contest. So we were happily surprised when we found out that she thought the contest only counted books from the library, which is why she didn’t tell us about all the books she had been sneaking from the other bookshelves in the apartment. We found the books in her room. To make sure we knew which she had actually read, and that she was not just stuffing the ballot box for the contest, we asked her to tell us about each book before we would sign off on it. She was very open about it, so it was an easy process.

We don’t turn in the contest sheets until Monday, but our kids make us awfully proud. Nora is pushing herself and reading more challenging material every day, and Louise has blown past 11,000 pages of verified reading for the month of October.

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