The Teachers as Readers research project (Cremin et al, 2008) highlights the importance of relationships between children, teachers, families and communities and how this has a strong influence on RfP (Reading for Pleasure). I wanted to build reading relationships beyond the classroom not only between the kids in my class but also between the children and their families (as well as between the children, their families and the teacher).
I started by considering how I personally connect with others about reading outside of school – via twitter, informal book talk and recommendations or more formally through the OU UKLA Teachers’ RfP book group that I host in London. I though that the latter could possibly work for the children, as it does for many adults, and so I decided to try and encourage a handful of parents to start a children’s book club outside of school to help raise the profile of RfP at home.
Book clubs for kids provide an excellent platform for book talk and plenty of opportunities for learning and imagination. Starting a book club is also relatively easy. All you need to do is drum up some interest amongst the children in the class and find out what they want to read. It’s good to start by defining the goals and structure of the book club, and selecting the ages of the children you want to participate (in this case, Year 5). Then, find out what they want to read (because choice is crucial) and start reading. Finally, organise an informal get-together to discuss what they’ve read.
I wanted to connect with the parents but also to demonstrate to the children that many adults read for pleasure by joining book clubs and that they could do this too. The goal was to encourage reading for enjoyment by creating a cosy space where they could relax in their own clothes, in their own (and their friends’) homes, whilst socialising and talking about books.
I developed a parent guide that highlighted the importance of fostering a love of reading, as well as some dos and don’ts for starting up a book club, top tips and advice for their first session etc. We sent this out via Parent Mail to all of the parents of children in my class. I then invited them to participate in hosting a class book group and, luckily for me, 8 parents and their children decided to take me up on the challenge!
Impact of the Book Club
- 8 girls joined the very first Year 5 book club (it was a real shame but there was no uptake from boys for the club), which was hosted by a different parent each time. I have 20 children in my class so this was a great result.
- Time and space was made for reading for pleasure at home, in comfy clothes in a cosy setting. This allowed the children to associate reading with enjoyment and book talk.
- All of the children were able to engage in in-depth chat about the books they were reading. The book blether continued beyond the home and back into the classroom as they shared what they had done with the class and displayed their work in the book corner.
- The first book club is still running now (it was set up 18 months ago and the children are now in Year 6). New children have since joined the club.
- Feedback from children and parents was overwhelmingly positive.
- Feedback from other teachers was also received once the children moved onto Year 6, “Thanks for handing over such inspired readers and writers! Great to see the children so involved.”
- I have since produced a ‘how to run a book club at home’ document and I now hope to roll this out every year with my new parents and class. This year, have succeeded in starting another book group this year with 7 children involved (again, all girls).
The idea of hosting book clubs at home has helped to develop links between the children’s reading at home and at school, as well as demonstrating to parents that the school genuinely cares about nurturing a passion for reading. It has also provided opportunities for discussion about reading between children, families and school staff in addition to providing numerous opportunities for writing and art linked to quality texts.
I would highly recommend having a go at this with your own children (be that your own kids or your class) to promote a love of reading for enjoyment and pleasure.
Thinking of running a book club at home? Here’s my guide for how to get started…
Miss P’s dos and don’ts for starting up your own book club at home:
- Do: Limit the number of participants. A group of 5 to 8 children is best.
- Do: Allow the children some choice (many book group books are chosen by showing 4-5 book covers and taking a vote on what to read next).
- Do: Establish some ground rules for talk to encourage participation and cooperation (no interrupting, no idea is a bad idea etc.)
- Do: Make the meetings fun (try not to make it seem like extra homework but add fun tasks to enthuse the children and get creative e.g. if reading about magic or potions, make some slime!)
- Do: Mix up the genres (switch it up frequently and read both fiction (mysteries, young adult novels, and science fiction) and nonfiction (historical works, books about science, and so on).
- Do: Keep it simple. Each club should start with book talk/discussion, followed by a fun craft related to the book. Top Tip! Don’t make crafts too elaborate. The focus should remain on the book and the conversation about the book.
- Don’t: Underestimate the children’s maturity level (they will surprise you!)
Things to consider when setting up a book club at home:
- Make sure everyone wants to be involved in the book club.
- Make sure the children are roughly the same reading level.
- Advertise your book club – get in touch with your child’s class teacher, your class parent rep or send a message on the parent Whatsapp group.
- Decide where to host the book club – choose a space that is well lit, quiet, clean, free from distractions and conducive to conversation (but also somewhere cosy and comfortable!)
- Consider having some snacks and juice (popcorn, fruit etc.)
- Share the responsibility of hosting among other parents of children in the book club.
- Contact the local library – they might be able to reserve books for you. If you don’t have space at home, they might also have a space in the library for you to host the book club.
- Contact your class teacher – they might have suggestions, ideas, question cards or resources to help you get started!
Top Tip! Every club meeting should have two discussion leaders. The team should include one book club member and one of their parents. Together, this team should guide the discussion (but not dominate it) by asking questions and determining who can talk. This helps maintain order and ensure everyone gets a chance to speak. Facilitators should prepare leading questions before the meeting in order to ensure the discussion is productive and thought-provoking. Good questions include: What was the setting? What kind of book is this? Is it a true story? Who was your favourite character? What was your favourite part? If you didn’t like the book – why not? Why did a certain character choose a certain course of action? If you’re not sure what questions to go for, ask your teacher for support.
Starting out – the first meeting:
- It might be worthwhile hosting an organizational meeting first. This is an initial meeting between the kids in the book club and their parents or guardians. This meeting will provide space for the children to get to know each other before the club begins reading and allow time for parents to work out dates for hosting at different houses etc.
- Allow time for the kids to talk freely, but provide a structured activity to draw out kids who might be shy, too. Perhaps ask children to design a poster about their favourite character?
- Have all the children sit in a circle and introduce themselves. For example, “Hello, my name is . . .” and list three facts about themselves.
- Provide 4-5 books (or photos of book covers) and snacks/drinks for the children. Ask them to look at the book covers and choose one to read for the first club. This will help them associate the book club with good feelings and happiness.
- The first meeting is also a good opportunity to create some rules for the book club. Ask the children to come up with some ‘rules for talk’ e.g. only one person can talk at a time, raise your hand if you want to speak, treat the book club location with respect etc.
- Whilst the children are doing their activities, decide with the other parents or guardians how often you want to meet, and choose the days and times that work best.
- The first meeting might end with a trip to the library (or calling to reserve the books) a bookshop, or simply ordering the first book club book on Amazon!
- Please feel free to get in touch if you are considering starting up a book club at home. I’d love to hear from you!
*Many thanks to the parents of the children pictured for granting me permission to use their fabulous book club photos for this blog.