424 | How To Help Kids Love Reading: The 50 Book Challenge! (Jessica Smartt)

424 | How To Help Kids Love Reading: The 50 Book Challenge! (Jessica Smartt)

Show Notes:

When Jessica Smartt realized that what her seventh-grade son needed more than anything was to love reading, she created a little challenge for him. It has transformed him into a reader. She shares how to run a Book Challenge for YOUR family - summer reading, or in the school year!

About Jessica

Jessica is a wife, homeschool mom of three, author, and blogger. She lives in sunny North Carolina on a big family farm with chickens, goats, cousins, and lots of mud.


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Show Transcript:

Jessica Smartt Hey, everybody! Welcome to The Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Jessica Smartt and I'm one of the many hosts here on the podcast. I'm also the author of Memory Making Mom and Let Them Be Kids, and the creator and founder of Homeschool Bootcamp. Each week we bring in encouraging conversation from this busy and blessed journey of educating our children at home. While the title is Homeschool Solutions, of course, we don't pretend to have the answer to every question. It's our hope that this podcast will point you to Jesus Christ, that you'll seek his counsel as you train your kids in the way they should go.

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Hey, everybody! This is Jessica Smart, and I'm thrilled to be with you today to share about our 50 book reading challenge and how I turned my non-reader into a reader. So I'm going to give you a little bit of background information about how I came up with this idea. Obviously, we all know that some kids just love reading and some kids just don't love reading. As an English major and an English teacher and an author, I obviously believe in the power of books. I have been impacted so powerfully by books, fiction and nonfiction—more nonfiction, honestly. They've made such an impact on who I am as a person. And then, of course, there's a host of research of what reading does for you and for the brain. And I just think it's more important than ever in this day and age as our kids are growing up.

So I was concerned that one of my kids just didn't love reading. And again, that's not a flaw, that's just some kids naturally gravitate towards that as a hobby and some don't. But it always kind of bothered me and I never really had a plan to fix it. So my middle son is extremely bright—he's now 13—very academic, does great at school, super gifted at many things, but just didn't naturally want to read books as some of...as I am and my firstborn was. So, he is now in seventh grade this year, and I thought that that would be a little bit of an adjustment for him so I didn't plan a super aggressive year for him as far as homeschooling. He does classes at our co-op. With my oldest son, I added some online classes with this academy that we love—Schole Academy—and added some Latin and some logic. I knew that he would need a lot of challenge. But with my seventh grader, I was a little bit nervous, not that he would not be capable of doing it, but that he would feel overwhelmed. So I kind of trimmed his year down to the basics for first semester just to see how he was doing. And then at Christmas, everything was going great and I was feeling really good about things, and then also feeling like he was breezing through school and done a little bit early in the day. And that's, obviously, a matter of opinion but I think we as moms kind of have that hunch when you're not doing as much as you really should be doing. So I had that hunch. And as I began to reevaluate the second semester, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I could add for him.

And I seriously looked into a number of things, a lot of official classes that my older son had done, but they didn't really seem like that would be a good fit. I looked into some out-schooling sorts of things. There's always the workbook-y sort of options, but none of those were really sitting right with me. And then I realized that— And honestly, a lot of this was through prayer. I do feel like God has just been so faithful to give me some direction in areas that I need it at times. So what I did is I prayed that the Lord would give me some wisdom and direction for what my middle son needed. And it dawned on me that what he needed more than anything was to become a reader and to just read some of the great books that there are out there. And I had seen my oldest son just really fall in love with certain books and series, and I wanted a similar experience for my middle son, even if it wasn't the same books. So I decided that I would create a challenge for him. He is a kid that is really motivated by challenges. And I know that not every child is like that, so this may need some tweaking for different personalities, and I totally recognize that. And for the first part of the podcast, I'm just going to tell you our story and what I did. And then in the second half, I'm going to talk about how you might be able to tweak it and create something similar for a different personality, because I think that's really important to create some internal motivation.

So this child really is motivated by numbers and counting things and achieving goals. So I knew that something along these lines would be exciting to him and not a drain. And that's not true of every personality, but I decided that I would challenge him to read 50 books. We began it January 1st and I was going to give him until June 1st. And I know that was very ambitious, but what I did is said that I would pay him a dollar for every book that he read. And I know that there are a lot of differing opinions about how you should pay kids for different things, but I feel really strongly that there is nothing wrong with some external motivation. And I do a lot of things for money, and I think that when used appropriately, there's not anything wrong with those sorts of incentives. Now, you could also do something else, obviously, but that's what I chose. And so I told him that after 25 books he would get a dollar per book. So, if he finished the semester with 32 books, he would get $32. But then there's an extra prize for finishing 50. So I created a Google document that we both shared, so that we could keep track of the books. And I knew that he, again, would like to take some ownership in that. So he goes on to document when he's read the book, the date, and then he also documents...he gives a rating of 1 to 10 of how much he liked it. And that's been kind of cool to be able to track. He's also created—because again, this is kind of his personality—some sub rankings, like different categories of things. And that's kind of been a fun thing that I didn't anticipate would happen.

But what I did is I created this document of— I started with 35 books. So my goal initially was that I would give him the 35 books, and then he would be able to fill in 15 that I approved, because there were certain ones that I really wanted him to read, and I didn't want him to just choose all of them on his own. What ended up happening was that it's kind of been more of a collaborative effort, and he really enjoys the ones that I have chosen. And so we've kind of done it a little bit together. And some of them that I have thought about, I will click on Amazon and allow him to read the sample and if he's not really feeling it then I will take his cues and not add it to the list. But initially I came up with a list of 35. And how I came to come up with this list in particular was a couple of things. I did a lot of research on some lists that I respect. And by the way, I have my list—you're probably wondering if I would share it—and I have my list available for you to access and download. It is a ton of ideas. I also included some that he had already read that I would have put on the list if he hadn't read. So it's more than 50, basically, and it's several different levels. I created it so that someone who has a younger child, or who has a girl— It's a wide variety of a list. So you can access that by the show notes, and see what I came up with. But basically, I came up with this list by researching some different places that I respected. And then also, some ideas that I had of my older son and my nephew, who reads a ton of books that they just absolutely loved and would recommend that a boy needs to read.

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So some of the ones on the list are a little bit easier because my initial goal was to kind of hook him. And I didn't want to start out with Oliver Twist because I knew he wouldn't be motivated to keep going. So some of the earlier ones on the list are definitely— My goal with those was to get him to love reading. And then there are some books on the list that my goal is to get him to read those books, because they're just excellent books. So it's a little bit of a combo, and I think if you're creating a list, you should start out with some that are easy wins, that are a couple levels below what his maximum reading level is, and also just really interesting and things that he would enjoy reading...he or she. And that's what I will plan to do when I do this again with my daughter, because it's been such a hit. So after I came to him with the challenge and he was excited to start, we added a reward, as I said, at the end— So it's funny, but what he loves more than anything is going out to breakfast. And he'll be able to go to breakfast with either his dad or maybe his grandmother or maybe me, he doesn't usually end up picking me for things like this because we spend so much time together, and that's fine. But he gets a special treat at the end.

So you could obviously tweak this to do a Lego set worth X amount of dollars. You could, of course, tweak the entire challenge to be a different number of books. I recognize that's a lot. And you could do— Fifty is probably ambitious for most kids for over the summer, but you could certainly run this challenge over the summer and maybe do 25 books, $2 a book, or they just get a big prize and maybe it's an experience. Just lots of cool ideas if you Google "incentives for kids"—reading incentives or just incentives—there's tons of cool ideas. And I just firmly believe in catering it to the child. So you're just going to have to sit and pray and research what would motivate your child. And it's not a loss if it's less than 50 books. I felt like that was an appropriate level with him to really stretch him, and he had a lot of time, and I knew that he could read quickly. But if you have a younger child or someone that it's difficult with, don't feel bad to either make the books be smaller and easier or adjust the level. And I really do believe in tailoring the prize, like I said.

So if you start this with a child that's not as motivated by numbers and rankings and that goal—maybe a more Type-A kind of person—you could also create a graph where they color in a book every time they read it. Or you could have them do a smiley face or a frowny face if they liked it or didn't like it. You could use stickers; you could make it a more artistic system. Mine is definitely a little bit more skin and bones. But I would just encourage you to really spend time, if you feel too like your child needs those, either because they're not spending their time as wisely as you would like or you want them to love great books, I would just encourage you to spend some time really praying and thinking about that particular child and what he or she needs. And again, the list that I have posted is tons of ideas and then also different lists of where I got book ideas so that you could hop over to different places and there's even more ideas. But briefly, some of the places that I went were AmblesideOnline— Memoria Press has really fabulous, must-read books for boys and must-read books for girls. And then I'll often hop over to Sonlight and see what they have. There's a couple other links, too, of places that I went for different ideas.

So I think this would be a fabulous idea to run in the summer as a challenge for the entire family. And maybe for the summer it's 30, maybe it's 20. It is helpful— As I said, my little numbers man calculated out how many books per day he needed to read. And that's definitely important to keep in mind. Although in the summer they have tons of time. And whether you have someone who loves reading and has a lot of hobbies or doesn't naturally gravitate to it, it is completely reasonable to think about having an hour of reading every day in the summer. That's a great use of time, especially if it's a wonderful book. And don't be afraid to shift gears, if they start reading a book and they're really, really not liking it— I do believe in pushing kids, but I also believe in being responsive to their cues, because I think that if it's a really great book and it's on the right level, they will want to keep reading it. So I would just be patient and maybe tuck one away if they don't love it. You know, don't start out with the hardest thing you can possibly think of.

So some of the benefits that we've seen from this— I would say that this has probably been the most meaningful thing that I've done with this child, and maybe one of the most memorable things I've done in homeschooling period. He's so proud of himself, as he should be. It's been amazing. And I do know for a fact that when the challenge is over, he is going to be way more likely to pick up a book. It has made him into a reader. In fact, I asked him yesterday— He has 12 books left in his challenge, and I asked him if he was going to be kind of disappointed when the challenge is over. And he said, "Well, no mom, because Ranger's Apprentice has—" I don't know how many books. Like 30 books in the series? He was implying, "I'm gonna just keep reading those all summer." So how cool is that? And I definitely also think I have seen his focus improve. And I love to see him bringing a book along in the car, reading it before dinner. He's actually been reading more than a lot of the quote "readers" in our home. I'm just so grateful that the Lord led me to this idea, and I would absolutely, highly encourage you to do it if you do it in the summer as a family, or in the school year as a component of your schooling. And I think you could definitely in the school year— I think it's a good idea to do like first stop, second stop, because you can lose momentum if it's just like, "Oh, I have to read and my reward is eight months down the road." So I would consider doing it in two pieces maybe kind of thing. And maybe you have a 50-book challenge for the year, but you get something at 25 in Christmas and something in May.

If you have any questions about this, I would love to hear them. And if you have any books that you think I absolutely need to include, there's an Instagram post and I can link it, you can see where people have given some suggestions. So again, you can download my sample form, and you can also see the list that I've curated for Level 1 and Level 2, boys and girls, of must-read books. And this is just a whole bunch of books that you can choose from as you create your own personalized list. So the link for that is going to be in the show notes. And you can also go to SmartterEachDay.com/Freebies and you'll see the link there as well. As always, reach out to me on Instagram, I'm @Jessica.Smartt if you have any questions or comments. And I would love to hear if you do this challenge and how it goes for your family. Blessings to you today. And of course, I have to remind you to pick up a copy of Memory Making Mom if you haven't, because we're going into summer. And of course, if you haven't gotten Let Them Be Kids, that's a great read for the summer. It's a great beach read. It's a great book to keep in mind as you're parenting kids throughout the summer. So blessings to you today. I hope you have a wonderful week.

Guys, thanks so much for joining us this week on The Homeschool Solutions Show. You can find show notes and links to all the resources mentioned at Homeschooling.mom. Don't forget to check out my friends at Medi-Share because you deserve healthcare you can trust. To learn more about Medicare and why over 400,000 Christians have made the switch go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/MediShare. That's GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/MediShare. If you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast and leave us a review, and that'll help other homeschooling parents find our community. And finally, don't forget to tag us on Instagram @HomeschoolingDotMom. That's @HomeschoolingDotMom to let us know what you thought of today's episode.

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