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01 Apr, Saturday
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Montreal Families

Website rewards young bookworms

Midway through spring break last year, Michelle Skamene realized that her two boys, Nicolas and Jonathan Greciet, were spending way too much time in front of the screen, whether it was the computer, the television or their little handheld video game players. And that meant they were spending very little time reading.

So Skamene came up with a plan: she would challenge her boys, then 9 and 8 years old, to match the amount of time they spent in front of a screen with an equal amount of time reading books. If they wanted to play on the computer for 15 minutes, for example, they had to read for 15 minutes. Then her husband jokingly suggested she set up a website where the kids could track their time. Skamene, a web designer by trade, realized he had hit on a great idea.

So she set to work, creating a website where the boys could log on and keep track of their reading minutes. Word about the site spread among her friends, with families eager to use it. “Parents told us their kids were reading more and they were all really getting a kick out of it,” says Skamene, who lives with her family in T.M.R.

With so many people expressing interest in the site, Skamene decided to make it public in mid-February. Now, at www.reading-rewards.com and its French equivalent www.ptits-bouquineurs.com, kids can not only log their hours but also find out what their peers are reading and offer book recommendations.

The Reading Rewards site is easy to use. Kids set up a free, private account, which must be approved by a parent. Families determine together what the appropriate rewards should be for a set amount of reading time. Kids log in periodically to record their minutes spent reading (known on the site as ‘RR’ Miles). Kids can see what other kids their age are reading, write their own reviews, trade in ‘RR’ Miles for jokes of the day or videos of the day (all of which are screened for safety and appropriate content by the site moderators) and play mini-games online. 

Since the site went public, it has been getting as many as 200 hits a day. (Interestingly, American users outnumber their Quebec counterparts).

However, for Skamene, the best part of the site is how it has kick-started the boys love for books. “Once they started reading for rewards, it turned into something they did for the sheer pleasure of it,” she reports. “When they found the right books for them, we no longer needed to dangle the carrot in front of them as it was something they wanted to do.

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