Monday, March 3, 2008

An Experiment

Okay,  so what does one do when one is an Unschooler who wants to encourage their reluctant reader to read but isn't interested in coercing them? Do you reward them when they have read?  No.  Because gold stars mean nothing to my daughter.  I, personally, hate them.  What a kid wants is hard cold cash.  So, you pay them to read.  Yup!  That is what I am doing.  

I was thinking about what it must be like to go to school, while your parent (s) go to work, and then have nothing to show for it at the end of the week, when at least they are getting paid.  I was thinking about how much more interesting it would have been to get paid to go to school.  I might have tolerated it more.  I mean, if I HAD to go, why not get paid.  So, then I figured, what if, instead of shrouding becoming more fluent in reading with rewards and praise, which do little to make someone enjoy reading for it's own intrinsic value, why not treat it like a job.  Some kids get allowances.  Though as parents we suck at giving allowances.  I figure, when you are in a family, part of being in it, is pulling some weight.  That's just part and parcel of belonging to the tribe, so to speak.  However,  if I ask the kids to go above and beyond typical daily duties I will offer to pay them.  For instance, Andrew details our cars and gets a nice sum for it.  He does a better job than Car Spa.  

All this made me think that Autumn,  though interested peripherally in reading,  doesn't care much about it. I don't care much either.  I see that she is learning and progressing and I am cool with it.  However, Robert would really like to see some more fluency.  So, I was thinking about how to set this up so it wouldn't be misunderstood by her.  We have blatantly tried to bribe her before, but it doesn't work.  Alfie Kohn is right about rewards being like a punishment of sorts.  All motivation goes out the window when we dangle a carrot.  So, how could I motivate her without the carrot?  How do I give her control over this?  Something not to be used as a reward, but something I could set up like a extra chore...because that is how she sees it.   So instead of saying, " Autumn, if you read this book I will give you 5 gold stars that will equal $1 and when you get 25 stars ($5) you'll get a treat. "  Rather it's more like, "You don't like reading, but I would really like you to get better at it,  so how about I pay you to do it as a job?  For every book you read you get X amount of money, you don't read you don't get money but no one is going to give you a hard time either, your choice."   

  With the idea in my head, Autumn and I went out to lunch, at a cute cafe, in historic Roswell where we live.  We ate chicken tacos out in the breezy sunny 55 F day .  We watched people and pups walking by and we chatted.  It was there I pitched the 'idea'  to her.  I asked her if she would like to make some money at the job of learning to read.  I told her that like her Dad's job she would get paid after, not up front. I laid down the specifics and the salary.  She liked it alot...thought it was very fair. 

 Now, some people probably think I am nuts.  That is okay.  People have thought I have been nuts for a long time.  Now, however, the coercion is off the table.  Autumn is 8 years old.  She is at an age where she wants certain things and I won't buy stuff just to buy it for her.  I don't want to set up the expectation that she will get everything she asks for.  Talk about 'Primadonna Training'!  And I am trying to find her ways to make money so that she can learn to manage her own.  Up until today, I couldn't think of a thing.  I am hoping this goes well.  Maybe we will both be able to get what we want.  I will be able to see her gain in reading proficiency and she will make some cash.  She wants the cash for things like Webkinz.  There she can read what her little pets say to her.  Also, she likes Beanie Babies 2.0 where she can chat.  I figure her reading proficiency will only come in handy in both venues and will continue to build on itself effortlessly....well, at least, that is the plan.

I will say that she came home from our lunch and did 2 lessons of click and read and then struggled through a book, but did a really great job, and was thrilled to get payment.  I will keep you posted.  Something I else I think this is going to help with is math...a twofer how awesome!



Sara said...

I was just this morning reading about all the bartering that went on in Rome during the days of the Republic in the Forum. J got a kick out of the fact that a suit of armor could be had for a trade of from 5-50 oxen! Now I had no idea there was such a variety of armor (weapons only incl from 30 oxen up???). So, if cash is a flop, maybe you can get an ox! Go girlie!!! Love in Love, SS

max said...


I grew up as a reluctant reader. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for boys 8 and up, that kids hate to put down. My web site is at and my Books for Boys blog is at
Ranked by Accelerated Reader

Thank you,

Max Elliot Anderson

Leonie said...

We call these "deals" - we make a deal, like a worker may negotiate a contract. Fine between consenting parties, imo. :-)