I was cornered by the children’s librarian last night. I knew it was bound to happen one of these days, but it caught me off guard.
“Are you a member of the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten Program? No? Do you have a minute to sign up? Someone just signed up their 2 week old!”
I politely declined. You may be surprised. As a lover and teller of stories, what could I possibly find wrong with a program geared towards improving literacy among preschoolers? For those of you that aren’t familiar with the program it is “a free program which encourages you to read 1,000 books with your child before he or she starts kindergarten” (source: The Official 1000 Books Before Kindergarten website)
Now, having done the math, and I’m pretty sure we would come close to or exceed this goal in our family. I’m not sure, and I honestly couldn’t care less. I think that the program was probably started with the best of intentions, and I am not trying to demonize the individuals that are putting their time and effort into getting more kids into the library doors. But it irritates me that quality time spent with our children and their intellectual “readiness” for school has become a metric, something to record, something to accomplish. They are hardly out of the womb, and we are already feeling pressured to prepare them for kindergarten.
I believe that the program is good for one thing and one thing only: library circulation. And maybe there’s something to be said for keeping our libraries running. But that’s where, I believe, the benefits end.
Now, if you participate in the program, please do not be offended. It probably won’t do you or your child any harm. If you enjoy writing down all of the books and if its what you need to get you out the door to your library, then by all means, have at it. Maybe you are thrilled with how much your child loves to read now, dragging books to you all the time and rushing to put a sticker on a chart or to write down the name of the book you just read. But be careful, here. Are you really instilling in your child a love for reading or is it possible that you are encouraging a love for achievement and reward? Perhaps they will think that the important thing is to read a TON of books, and to read them quickly.
This may come as a relief to parents that are tired of spending 10 minutes per page on the same Frog and Toad story that they’ve read over and over again. But consider this: What if Frogantoad starts as a name for a single character on the first read, appearing to talk to himself throughout the book, and then by the 10th read you hear a little voice say Where’s Toad? when Frog is looking for him. And then a few reads later: Frog’s sad. You watch that little, beautiful “click,” the absorption of new concepts. Studies actually show that young children thrive on repetition. Reading the same books over and over to children actually helps them to dive deeper into that world, and contributes to better quality learning (Source: READ IT AGAIN, MOM, Babble.com). While the program in question does allow for repeats, my impression of the program is that it stresses quantity and speed.
My advice? Skip the program. Encourage your child to EXPLORE the world of books without making it about the numbers. Exploring takes time. During some phases you will spend a lot of time reading one book. She will need to turn the pages herself. She will need to point out the flowers. She will ask you the same questions she asked last time. Sometimes she will ask you a new one. Sometimes she will ask you questions that have no answers. She will not be interested in finishing this book any time soon. She will not be thinking about the reward she will get for finishing it. You get rewards for doing things you DON’T want to do. The story itself will be the reward.
Exploring also means reading new books. She will love to go to the library and pick out her new books to read. And she’ll love to “pay” for them with your library card. She will have a hard time giving them back the next week, but you will explain that we can’t get new books until we give the old ones back. She will give them back, reluctantly. And then she will walk or hop or run into the children’s library depending on her mood, and she will find the books that will become her friends for the next several days.
Call me lazy, but I have NO interest in taking the time to record lists of things I’ve done. I don’t track my calories or my workouts on an app. I don’t count my steps. I don’t “check in” on Facebook. I don’t “track my progress.” Sometimes we need to do these things to accomplish very specific goals. That is where metrics can be helpful. But when it comes to simply exploring and enjoying life, I feel that these superficial measurements of achievement add an unnecessary layer of complexity to an otherwise simple situation. A meal is a meal. If you care about your health, make it a healthy one. Exercise is exercise. If you want to feel better, do a good workout, and make it something you love to do. A story is an experience. Can we PLEASE save this ONE THING from the culture of competitiveness that has seeped into every other area of our lives? I love this poem by Arnold Lobel, the author of the beloved Frog + Toad series. I think it summarizes my sentiments perfectly:
Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.
– Arnold Lobel