Chapter 12: Get it in Writing

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Making a change

Just deciding that reading is a good thing and promising yourself that you’ll help your child practice more isn’t always enough. When we have so much on our plates every day, sometimes even the best intentions get pushed aside. Kids, too, are notorious for making promises they don’t end up keeping. “Sure, Mom,” your child may say happily, “I’ll feed my new puppy/do my homework/take out the trash every night!” You get the idea. Just because your child says he’ll do something doesn’t always mean he will.

Starting a new habit

The writer Mark Twain is famously quoted as having said, “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs one step at a time.” And he was right! Just because you’ve decided to make a healthy change in your child’s routine – like adding in reading practice – doesn’t mean it will happen overnight. Making the commitment to help your struggling reader is a great first step, but now it’s time to put that commitment into action. How? By creating a reading contract with your child.

What is a reading contract?

A reading contract is an agreement – in writing – between you and your child. In the contract, the two of you agree to add more reading activities into your daily schedule. The contract lists what activities will be added, how often they will be added, and what kinds of rewards can be earned for sticking to the contract.

Your contract will probably need to include some “boring” reading activities such as, “Finish the reading homework my teacher gave me.” But be sure to add some fun stuff, too. In fact, the more fun stuff the contract has, the better! After all, the best way to engage a child in reading is to make it fun.

Fun reading activities could include:

  • We will go to the library twice a week and check out at least one new book.
  • Mom will read me a bedtime story every Friday and Saturday night.
  • Every weekend, I will read a story to Grandpa on Skype.
  • Dad will get me a new magazine subscription to something fun – like puzzles or pirates!

Don’t be afraid to be downright silly when coming up with ideas, either. Kids love silly! You could include things like:

  • Every morning at breakfast, I will read something off the back of my cereal box.
  • Whenever Dad drives me to soccer practice, I will read two different road signs.
  • I will read the summary on the DVD case before I watch any movie.
  • At the grocery store, I will read the words on two different greeting cards – one funny one and one sappy one.

The contract

Below is a reading contract for you and your child to fill out together. Listen to your child’s ideas while filling it out. Kids can sometimes think way outside the box and can come up with some really imaginative ideas for adding reading into their day. And remember, the more input your child has in filling out the contract, the more likely he will be to stick to it. Have him sign the bottom, as well, and explain that by signing it, he is agreeing to do what it says.

Don’t forget to fill in the “Reward” space, too. When your child does what he’s agreed to do, he should have a chance to earn a well-deserved reward. Rewards don’t have to be complicated or expensive. They can be as simple as a bike ride with Mom or Dad, or an extra hour of video games on the weekend.  For really big accomplishments, you can add a trip to the pizza parlor or the local swimming pool. And if you’re really sneaky, you might even work in some reading-based rewards. Did your child do his reading homework every night for a week? Great! He’s earned a new comic book or the next installment in the Harry Potter series.

Our Reading Contract

Activity Time Per Week Reward

Signed ____________________________________   (parent or guardian)

Signed ____________________________________   (child)