Whether your readers are ravenous or reluctant, an occasional read-a-thon is a great tool. Read-a-thons can bridge the gap between summer vacation and the beginning of autumn’s new schedule; they can buy an overwhelmed mom some time during a particularly busy stretch of time; they can constructively get a family through illness; they can be used effectively in a unit study or as a way to “break” in between unit studies while Mom regroups. A read-a-thon can motivate all types of readers with varying levels of dedication to step up and read more, even if only for the duration of the contest.
There are many ways to run a read-a-thon and to adapt one for your family’s needs. I’ll describe one of ours from a couple of years ago, when my youngest was still little and just beginning reading so as to cover more of an age range.
I announced the read-a-thon first thing the Tuesday after Labor Day. We had kicked off our new school year the week before, which had the theme “Everyone Has a Story,” with a field trip to the fabulous Treehouse Museum in Ogden, Utah, and with learning about types and genres of books. The children had from Tuesday morning until the midnight between the following Sunday/ Monday to log their reading. Then, other than regular chores and a daily math assignment, nothing was expected of them from me during that week, leaving them free to read (and me free to finish preparing for our upcoming studies and schedule).
I had some children who didn’t want to put in much effort because they assumed they’d lose no matter what to their always-reading-and-maniacal-about-books brother. I told them that they’d be surprised how it all worked out in the end and that no effort would be a waste. On Monday morning I awarded the prizes. I had a big bowl of favorite candy treats. For every different genre a child read, he got to choose a treat. For every book he read in its entirety, he chose a treat. For every full 5 hours of reading time logged, he got a dollar bill. If a child logged scripture reading, I doubled the value of the time. For reading over 200 pages, the child got a treat. And the child who read the most overall, taking all the numbers of pages, books, and time into account, got a $5 gift card to a book store.
It is important to reward EVERYTHING in a read-a-thon, and here is why. When your children range in age and reading ability, it’s not quite fair otherwise.
My youngest child was reading beginning readers. There was no way she could have matched page for page, or time, because she read little books to me and then she was “done.” She needed to be rewarded for the number of books she read, but if that were the only way to be rewarded, it would have been a rip for a kid tackling just one 500-page book.
My oldest child was very involved in many outside activities and didn’t have the same amount of time to devote to reading. ANY reading he could get in needed to be noticed. If it weren’t for the genre category, he’d have earned nothing.
My smack middle child is a crazy fast reader, devouring 500-page books in a single day. He would have easily won all categories if I hadn’t done something to level the playing field.
My other two children fit into their own niches. The variety of ways to earn rewards kept everyone trying hard and motivated. Once they saw how it worked, they began to strategize for the next read-a-thon.
As I mentioned earlier, you can make several read-a-thon adaptations. If you’re worried about academics, a read-a- thon can play into your current studies. You could have an “Ancient History Read-a-thon” and/or narrow it to a subject, breaking the genre category into things such as reference, non-fiction, picture book, historical, fiction, magazine (e.g. National Geographic, Kids Discover), etc. If you can’t/won’t spare a whole week, you can make your read-a-thon last just one or two days, and let everyone wear pajamas and make comfy reading places anywhere in the house they’d like, with popcorn or other favorite snacks readily available. You can even enjoy the great outdoors while participating in a read-a-thon by reading outside in hammocks, on hillsides, under umbrellas, and on trampolines. However they work best for you, your children will love having a few read-a-thons in their year.