Read-a-thon strategies:Crazy competitive or clever?

I was talking with a mom friend on the phone this weekend and her husband kept beeping in. He had been sent to the library to pick up more books for her child’s school read-a-thon. You would think this would be a fairly easy task: choose some books around your child’s reading level that he or she would be interested in reading. Bring home a bunch since it is a competition.

But apparently it’s not that simple – at least not at my friend’s school.  I can’t decide if she’s being very clever or if her child’s school is way too competitive. Here are some examples of her read-a-thon strategies:

The most important thing a mom can know is at what page number the point value of the book increases. This mom didn’t want the 136-page book because at page 137 her child would get an extra point for reading just one more page.  So you need to pay attention to where the point breaks are at all levels and choose books that just barely qualify for that next point level. (That would never have occurred to me.)

The next big discussion point at her school is do you count the pages with illustrations on them? One mom started taking out the pages with illustrations so then the other mothers felt like they were cheating if they included them. My friend thought it depended on how many pages were illustrations, but for the most part she was including every numbered paged in the book.

The final tricky point to consider is how low of a reading level can they read and not feel like it’s cheating? It’s a heck of a lot easier to get through shorter, easier books but they may be below your child’s normal reading level. I know our school cares about being with certain reading levels for AR books but I’m not sure about the read-a-thon.

I can’t decide if my friend is thinking too hard about this or if all moms are thinking this hard and I’m the only not being strategic for read-a-thons.

What’s happing at your house? Have you actually looked at point cut-offs so you’re getting maximum points for your efforts? Do you count illustration pages toward your total? Do your kids read below, on or above grade level for their read-a-thon books? Have you ever considered any of these points?

53 comments Add your comment

motherjanegoose

November 18th, 2009
7:18 am

I am all about getting kids to read.

Do parents actually lose sleep over this.. guess so?

Was that comment o.k.?

Again, I am sorry if I have offended anyone. I have read my recent comments to peers my field and they tell me they sound fine . I have called them to see if I am missing something. I am quite confused. .

A

November 18th, 2009
7:48 am

I’m sorry, but if you’re stressing out about how many pages are in your kids’ books for a silly contest, I don’t think you have your priorities straight. Reading is extremely important, and I hope all kids are reading every single day, but honestly this contest sounds really counterproductive. Do we have to turn everything into a competition?
Thankfully with my 1st grader (who loves to read!) we haven’t experienced this read-a-thon yet, but if/when we do, I hope we’d be reasonable and make it a fun experience rather than yet another thing to stress our poor kids out over.

Really people, when there’s H1N1, school lunches that lack proper nutrition, more kids sliding into poverty, etc. does one extra page in a book for a contest really matter in the scheme of things?

Vork

November 18th, 2009
8:00 am

I think that, just like everything else that starts out as a simple and fun way to get kids to do something that will ultimately help them out the over competitive parents go nuts with it and make it not fun for anybody anymore. These are the same parents that get into fights in the stands at the ballfield while their kids are playing a sport…..idiots.

My daughter is 5 and is in the excellerated reading program. She reads one book per week and gets tested on that book on Friday and she gets a gold star on the wall next to her name when she passes the test….no big deal and no way to cheat, you either know the material or you don’t.

@MJG – WTF? Have you gone bat shiat crazy?

mom2alex&max

November 18th, 2009
8:02 am

Vork, I am pretty certain the second post is a troll.

On topic: I find the whole thing extremely sad. This does not teach to read for pleasure.

C'mon, Vork...

November 18th, 2009
8:03 am

..if you are gonna get on motherjanegoose you need to be able to discern which comments written under her name are hers and which belong to the troll – you should know better by now!

lakerat

November 18th, 2009
8:05 am

I don’t think any of those posts were by the “real” MJG. Somebody really has her down quite well, however, but they give themselves away as the troll everytime!

motherjanegoose

November 18th, 2009
8:09 am

@ A…I agree with your comment but that may not be helpful to you….haha!

My kids are avid readers. Sometimes I wonder if this sort of thing will backfire as those with strong readers will see right though it and those who do not already have readers will think it is way too much trouble.

No, I do not work for free.
Yes, I have been contacted by other blogs…to see if I want to contribute some stories.
Yes,I am 50.
Yes people who pay me often hire me again and pass my name along to others.
Yes, folks who signed up for other classes ( at seminars) migrate to me and ask if they can please spend the rest of the day with me as their speaker was not interesting.

Yes, out of respect to Theresa, I will leave the blog today as the trolls are already out.

Have fun…

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

November 18th, 2009
8:22 am

I think I have just blocked the MJG harasser but that may have also been Vork —- hmmm — We’ll see who shows back up.

Andrea

November 18th, 2009
8:34 am

Well, once again, overzealous parents take what should be a way to encourage kids to read and turn it into a competitive sport. My child does participate in the accelerated reader program and with that program, you read the book, take the quiz and you are done. Theresa, I can’t help but wonder how much of the book your friend’s child is actually absorbing because all mom is focused on is hitting a target number. If the school is perpetuating that type of behavior, it would only take a few parents to call the principal out on it.

justathought

November 18th, 2009
8:36 am

Heres the deal; Today’s suburban, helicopter mom does not see their child as an individual that needs space and time to develop at their own pace. No, they see their kid as an extension of themself within their own community, a community of overly-competetive Moms (and Dad’s). This charged environment brings out the insecurities, big time. These insecurities show up in read a thons, school volunteering, SOCCER, all in the same way that motivates these parents to but $40,000.00 SUV’s that they dont really need or McMansions that they can’t afford, you get the picture.

Do your kid a favor, stay away from their school, just 1 day. Skip a soccer game, just 1. Let them breath!

South GA mom/teacher

November 18th, 2009
8:40 am

Just a quick comment on the “counting the illustrations” page. The page with the pictures is just as important as the page with words! Pictures give readers clues to the meaning of the story… sometimes they really can’t read all the words! Afterall, comprehension of the material should be the reader’s outcome. MJG always great to see you here. We love you in So GA!

JATL

November 18th, 2009
8:41 am

Seriously? It’s a read-a-thon! I would hate to be the neurotic child of one of these nut parents. “OMG -YOU HAVE TO READ THIS OR SHOULD IT BE THIS OR MAYBE THIS!?!?!?!” How about, “Pick a bunch of books you’re interested in and read them. Enjoy it! If you win, great and if you lose, no biggie -at least you enjoyed reading some new books!”

And why wasn’t the kid with the husband at the library choosing some books he or she might be interested in? Oh, let me guess, she was at ballet or soccer or piano or fencing or one of 10 other things they have her doing.

5th grade teacher

November 18th, 2009
8:43 am

I am a fifth grade teacher in a Title 1 school where students for the most part are not exposed to the same appreciation for literature as in many of these families that you speak of. But asan educator to me the most important part of having children read is not a page amount, but ratherr how good the book is. Good literature trumps long books, plus find books that each kid will connect with is so much more important. They need to be part of the selection rather than moms and dads. Books need to be written on the correct level for the students, my rule, as with most teachers these days is a max of five unknown words per page. If there are more than that the books are truly not good for the kids…be careful as to just going to the library and picking up books for your kids. They need books that foster their desire to read and to appreciate reading.

motherjanegoose

November 18th, 2009
8:44 am

Thanks Theresa…check your e-mail.

This will be my last comment for the day, I promise.

The notes on my 8:09 post are replies to attacks from the troll poster who has been removed by Theresa. Some who are not on the blog yet may be wondering what in the world is going on this early.

anne

November 18th, 2009
8:46 am

What a sad story. As a family, we do not participate in such “contests” as they are counterproductive. In our family, DD prefers non-fiction to fiction; so these incentive programs don’t work.

KAW

November 18th, 2009
8:58 am

I have to agree with most of the posters so far — how does this type of contest benefit the student? Is the reward the child receives really all that great to be worried if they read a book with 136 pages or 137?

Here’s a thought: set an appropriate level to achieve by grade level and then recognize all the students who reach that mark. Maybe that would settle down some of these over achieving parents. Of course, they would just find something else to focus on……

deidre_NC

November 18th, 2009
9:00 am

@just a thought- i so agree…there are so many things that cause our kids stress in this world and it just gets worse as they get into higher grades…let them be kids..let SOMETHING be fun…no wonder there are so many neurotic kids these days…nothing is fun…everyone (adults too!!!!) need to have things they do just for the sheer pleasure…to me and my kids reading is high on that list…they have to read enough material that is required for classes that may be borning or scientific…let their pleasure reading be just that…PLEASURE!! not a freaking contest…grrrrrr

lmno

November 18th, 2009
9:03 am

My son’s school participates in the Accelerated Reading Program. My son is in first grade and reads often. At this point, he can read a newspaper. I logged on to the website that was provided and the first thing I noticed was that he was given a goal of points to reach by certain time periods. I would rather not even participate, but the school posts the childrens pictures on the wall by what percentage of their goal they have met. My son is very competitive and wants to be at the top. So, I started looking at the titles of books. Much like your friend’s school, some books are worth more than others. It seemed like a waste of time to read books that have low point values. So, I suggested that he only read books with high point values, mostly just so we can get this over with quickly.

Thanks to this blog, I learned about the “Diary of a A Wimpy Kid” books. Those are all valued with high point totals. I bought him all four books and he has read them over the last two weeks and passed those tests.

So thank you Theresa for mentioning those in your blog. I read them too and thought they were very good.

deidre_NC

November 18th, 2009
9:12 am

my daughter had a friend in her class all the way thru school…pre-k thru graduation..they were very competetive…that was fine…if the kid feels it thats great….my issue is making the kids feel it..all kids arent that way…let them be them!

FCM

November 18th, 2009
9:26 am

JATL I wondered the same thing: Why isn’t the kid helping to pick out books?

This Mom needs to get a life outside of her children or maybe up her meds. Shoot, the kid will probably grow up to hate reading having been forced to read books that are just the right length. Crazy.

Mom Of 2

November 18th, 2009
9:26 am

Next semester my son’s school is doing a Read-a-thon as a fund raiser. I don’t know what the rules will be yet but the question had occurred to me that since he is reading way above grade level that I hope the rules have some way of accommodating that.

Debbie

November 18th, 2009
9:35 am

What happened to having kids pick out books and keeping track of their own points. That is what I did as a kid. Has the whole world gone parenting mad or is it me?

DB

November 18th, 2009
9:36 am

(Let’s see — just how polite do I want to be on this . . . ? Umm — not very . . . !)

THIS IS THE STUPIDEST THING I HAVE EVER HEARD!!!!!!!!!!! It’s the KIDS reading competition — are these mothers actually monitoring their child’s reading and making determinations based on the NUMBER OF PAGES A BOOK HAS?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? Are these parents so freakin’ insecure that they have to manage an innocuous reading competition so that their child will “win”? Do you really have moms who have absolutely nothing better to do with their lives than to play mind games with other mothers by taking illustrations out of books?

If kids aren’t allowed to learn how to make decisions at this age, on simple things like choosing a book, how can they be expected to learn how to make good decisions later on?

There’s nothing wrong with reading competitions — it’s along the lines of spelling bees, math bowls, debate teams, etc. The “wrong” comes into it when the parents start getting involved it and start managing their child’s competition, in some idiotic attempt to “build up their self-esteem.” The only self-esteem that’s getting built up in these cases are the parent’s self-esteem, which must have been pretty fragile to begin with. If you have to manage a kid’s reading competition so that your kid will “win” — oh, for God’s sake, get a LIFE.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

November 18th, 2009
9:38 am

hey mom of 2 — they generally get more points for thicker harder books -so that would be the accommodation — if he’s reading above level he’ll get more points for the thicker books — -

I want to defend my mom friend — she is a very good, caring, loving mom — I just think she’s in a chi, chi (spelling) community and there’s lots of pressure –

also she told me that her son never really feels competitive about anything so she was excited that he showed some motivation to want to “win” this read-a-thon so she wanted to help him.

I can’t remember where child was while dad was getting books — I think dad may have been out running other errands and just ran into get books — they have a big family that includes a baby so there is always a lot going on.

anotherthought

November 18th, 2009
9:47 am

I coached at the varsity level for years, so i was around the school quite a bit and year after year I’d see these kids graduate. Eighteen years old with tiny bags under there eyes! Worn out already from being pawns in there sick, insecure mother’s games. Yes, they got into UGA, Vandy, Auburn, etc… but at what cost? They were socially awkward, tired and so over their overbearing freak of a mom. leave them alone and let them fail at something. Let them take ownership of their own failures, their own mistakes. How else will they know what success feels like? THEIR success, that is.

anotherthought

November 18th, 2009
9:52 am

Sounds like teresa has already drank the kool-aid. Gluten free, super enriched kool-aid from whole foods, of course.

JATL

November 18th, 2009
10:08 am

@Imno -when I taught (a gazillion years ago), we implemented the Accelerated Reader program for our high school students. I had some of the same issues with it that you do, but for kids who NEVER read and haven’t grown up reading at all -for pleasure or school work -it was a good program. The competitive factor did help because kids are naturally competitive, and they could win prizes for reading certain books and certain amounts of books. In that type of situation I like it, but I still think the kids should be controlling how competitive they want to be with it.

Theresa -sorry -I don’t care how “chi chi” a community she’s in -obviously lots of moms are discussing the whole read-a-thon and stressing about it. That’s STUPID! They all need a swift kick and something real to focus on. Honestly, can’t the Junior League make a roaring comeback? It seems that neurotic, helicopter parents have taken its place. Once it was everywhere -suburban and city for all of the upper class ladies to meet at, and focus their time and energies on community projects. People may make fun, but hey -at least they helped with some actual problems! I know it still exists, but it seems that instead of focusing on community projects, helping the less fortunate and forming committees for beautification of their towns, highways, etc., women (and men) with lots of extra time on their hands have decided to pour all of it into micromanaging their kids to death.

atlmom

November 18th, 2009
10:16 am

Calm down! The read-a-thon is a fundraiser for the PTA at the same time as it promotes reading among the students. It’s all about fun and not all that serious. You can pretty much read or not read, it’s up to the students. Most of the students really enjoy it. What’s wrong with that?? Too competitive?? Don’t be a socialist.

Vork

November 18th, 2009
10:21 am

@Theresa

Um no…contrary to popular belief I am not the trokk but thanks for the accusation.

Vork

November 18th, 2009
10:24 am

And that would be that I am not the troll. Not trokk….my bad.

new stepmom

November 18th, 2009
10:25 am

JATL, great point about the Junior League. I think if moms were to become more civic minded the kids would fare better. I alos think it might help kids to think outside of themselves for a minute or two. I am amazed that there are so few community oriented activities that children so now. Even Scouts seems to only be about earning badges for the child and not about any community service. Luckily we can do community service projects through church, but I think schools should be doing more of this too.

I am amazed the micromanagement of children and what it is doing to them. My stepdaughter reads avidly and this contest would be a no brainer for her. However, math is not her strongest subject but she is good at it. Her mom would prefer that she be in on level math so that she can get a solid A than in advanced level so she can be challenged and make a solid B. I thought school was about expanding your horizons, but it now seems that the teaching to the test mentality hits on every level and to anotherthought’s point life for these kids seems to only be about getting into college….

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

November 18th, 2009
10:34 am

oh good Vork – I’m glad you’re back — I couldn’t tell for certain –

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

November 18th, 2009
10:35 am

JATL — i think junior league still exists but less ladies involved because more are working I would guess — only 20 some percent not working these days at home with kids –

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

November 18th, 2009
10:36 am

Look they fixed my shaded comment thing — good job computer guys!

Uconn

November 18th, 2009
10:39 am

Crazy… Wow, how about just encouraging your kids to read? Why does it have to be about who does the most? Why does it have to be about the individual? How about as a CLASS? which class on a grade level reads the most? But even then I am sure it would turn into a frenzy. Geez… Way to take all the fun out of reading… Seriously, some moms NEED to get a LIFE… My mom encouraged me to do what I liked, not push me into activities just to say I was in a certain activity.. Only rule was, once I started it, I had to finish it. I did just enough to have fun and still appear well rounded to get into a good school… Now I am sure that my parents wished I went to a more prestigious school (now though Uconn is the top rated public Univ in New England… GOOO HUSKIES!) But I was HAPPY at Uconn and to my parents that was all they could ask for.

fer

November 18th, 2009
10:40 am

This blog gets more and more neurotic. One question though: Why was the *father* choosing the books? Shouldn’t that have been part of the kid’s job?

lmno

November 18th, 2009
11:24 am

As far as those who question why a parent might be concerned about how many points a book is worth, I will explain.

I see this AR thing as yet another thing that we have to do. The quicker we get it done the better. The tests can only be taken at school and they have to be taken either before school or after. If they could be taken at home, no problem. However, this requires not only his time, but mine. That might sound selfish. Heck, I guess it is selfish. However, in order to take the tests, we have to wake up at 5:45 as opposed to 6:15 for the 45 minute ride to school.

If we have to wake up 30 minutes early and go to bed earlier, I want it done and over with as quickly as possible. I can either do that 40 times with half point books to reach the goal of 20, or I can do it 7 – 8 times with 3 point books.

lmno

November 18th, 2009
11:25 am

And as I stated, since my son can already read, this testing is not adding any educational value.

caseclosed

November 18th, 2009
11:40 am

Wow!

The rationale is more disturbing than the actions.

“we”, really? Your going to elementary school? Youre reading certain books for points?, “we”.

lmno

November 18th, 2009
11:48 am

““we”, really? Your going to elementary school? Youre reading certain books for points?, “we”.”

I am not reading the books, but I am going to the elementary school. I drive him 45 minutes every day to be there. He has to have an adult with him in the computer lab.

I suppose you’re right. I should teach my 6 year old more responsibility by telling him to take marta at 4:30 to get to school on time, huh?

Becky

November 18th, 2009
12:32 pm

@lmno..no, loved your last line..Maybe he could learn to drive the Marta bus? Even if he can’t see over the steering wheel, he can’t do much worse than the drivers now..

Stan, are you out there and how are things going for you and your wife? Hope all is well for y’all..

lmno

November 18th, 2009
12:53 pm

To answer the question directly as to whether its Crazy Competitive, or Common Sense, its Common Sense.

You simply ask yourself, “how much redundant busy work do I want my child to have to endure to get through this complete waste of his time?”

The common sense answer is, “as little as possible”.

Helping them develop a strategy for that is not “helicopter parenting”.

What people don’t seem to get is that this waste of time is not just for the kids. It will waste your time as well. You can say, “Well, you shouldn’t be involved” but you have to be involved because you have to get teh kid to school.

Like I wrote, I can either get him there 7 times or 40.

JATL

November 18th, 2009
2:29 pm

Actually, Theresa, that would be perfect for Jr. League. It’s always been a higher society club, so if only 20% of women are available to do it, then a chunk out of that 20% would be perfect. Most women in the past DIDN’T do Jr. League. What I’m saying is that MOST women have always been too busy doing something (or just not “league material”), but civic groups like that seem to be almost nonexistent these days because the hoity toity women who would normally be in them have turned into helicopter moms who hover over their children constantly and involve themselves and their kids in waaaaayyyyy too much.

RRR

November 18th, 2009
2:43 pm

what is Junior League?

Worn out in the Fall

November 18th, 2009
3:21 pm

Actually, the active ATL Junior League membership is over 75% working members & the majority of whom are young professional women without children. Just saying, at least in Atlanta anyway, it’s no longer your mother’s or grandmother’s Jr. League anymore.

Also, there is a huge initiative among the Georgia Jr. Leagues this year to help elementary children with reading. http://www.jlatlanta.org/community/million-minutes.aspx

Tiffany

November 18th, 2009
3:57 pm

We have the AR program at my kid’s school as well. The only thing I don’t like about it is that they will not allow the kids to check out or read any books unless they fall into the points set for their grade. The kids are too busy checking out the little numbers on the side of the books that they don’t even know what they are reading sometimes. Also when they go to the public library, there are no numbers on the side of the books so the kids don’t know what to pick. I would rather the kids just pick books that they WANT to read, and not have to worry about the points assigned to them, or number of pages ect.

justmy2cents

November 18th, 2009
4:43 pm

Again, as a lowly tech working in schools…I can tell you AR is overrated. The latest, greatest is READ 180 (Scholastic software). My kids have to read 15 min a night (1st grader) and 30 min a night (5th grader) already as part of their standards. I LOVED to read as a child. Kids these days…really aren’t that motivated…it is just more of status quo. The competition aspect is more for parents from what I have seen…most kids could care less (unless they get ice cream or pizza)

FCM

November 18th, 2009
5:33 pm

We read about 30 min a night weekdays, except Fridays. We read 45 min or more on weekends. Fridays are too busy and even a bookworm deserves a break. We fit the time in easily by reading to me while in the car. Reading in line, reading at church before services begin. I even count reading a cereal box outloud toward their time. To me it is not so much what you read as that you read.

My eldest doesn’t have AR requirements any longer. They have to read 25 books in the school year. That is if she reads at her grade level. If she reads at her ability level she can read less books but then its about pages. NOTHING is about points and she loves reading more than ever, she is finally looking at books that she used to think she couldn’t do because they wouldn’t count on AR — right now she is reading New Moon (if she finishes it while the movie is out she gets to go see the show, if not only Mom gets to see it in the theatre!).

All of these contests (Sally Foster, Box Tops, etc) are for the parents even if the “prize’ is for the kid. I refuse to get into it.

JATL I can understand where your coming from. However with budget cuts and so forth, the schools really need the crazy helicopter parents in doing these things. They need the money of the programs like I mentioned above and all the other fundraisers to be able to get anything decent for the schools.

It just bites all the way around.

If the parent really wants a reader though, they should let the child catch them reading. I turn the TV off and declare DEAR several times a week. I did not stop reading for my pleasure just because I had kids (though friends said I would have too). I just pointed at their book and said yours and then to my book “Momma’s”. I would read a book or two to them then hand it to them and say your turn while I read mine.

I also made sure their books where everywhere (car, tub, rooms, kitchen). They knew they were there books. Why is it there is such power in owning your own book?

Youngest child is a slower reader, but she is very excited to have the highest points in AR in her class. I encourage her in this as it is the only thing she is competitive about thus far. I do not pick her books though, she does.

JATL

November 18th, 2009
7:04 pm

@FCM -I do understand that schools need all the parental help they can get, and I really support it. I’m talking about the certain parents (moms and dads) who step in to “help” but really want to run the show, make everything on their terms, and flip out if their kid isn’t at the top of said activity. Case in point: I think a read-a-thon is great if the competitive spirit comes from the KIDS; I think it’s sad when a few parents start freaking out and creating this crazy-competitive attitude over something that should actually be very relaxing. You’re right about schools needing all the money they can get from fundraisers and extra programs and lots of help from parents. After attending a small private school and teaching at a woefully underbudgeted metro county school, I feel like I should have some type of professional fundraising certificate!

Becky

November 20th, 2009
2:34 am

I agree that this type of competition is counterproductive… I would much rather see schools focus on bigger issues such as teaching children to grow up to be responsible people, along with knowledge of math, science, reading, writing (you know… a well rounded education. Rick Posner, author of a great book titled, “Lives of Passion, School of Hope” teaches this very concept (that self-empowerment and responsibility should be taught first), and has proof that this type of education does lead to students becoming responsible adults. As a parent, I am more proud of the fact that my child is a good responsible person, rather than the fact that they read 100 pages in a book. Silly.