Family Reading Night: a remedy for cabin fever!

januari 2007 061photo © 2007 jessebezz | more info (via: Wylio)
About 15 years ago, I borrowed the idea for this event from librarians in the district schools my children attended.  I tweaked it to suit my own purposes and each year the event grows in popularity.   We hold Family Reading Night in February which has traditionally been I Love to Read and Write month in many schools in Vermont.  (It’s also the time of year when many of us start to feel housebound and tired of the cold and snow and wind!)   I decided to write a post  about it now so that you have lead time to try it yourself in that same time frame.

             My building is preschool to grade 3, and I run the program for grades 1-3 .  I have found that our littlest ones are intimidated by the older students and rarely say anything in the discussions.  We have chosen to have them wait a year;  it gives them something to look forward to.

First, you need to obtain multiple copies of several titles that you select.  Then you booktalk those titles in library classes about 3-4 weeks prior to the event and have families sign up to participate.  (I always have them indicate their first and second choice for a book and dole them out on a “first come, first served” basis.  Here’s a link to my Parent letter and Contract for this year.

                I ask several classroom teachers if we can use their rooms, and I save space in the library for a group or two.  We set up chairs in a circle, and place some generic discussion questions that could work for many books on the chairs.  I make sure to have good signage directing families to the library that night, and then to the discussion rooms.

                We begin at 6:30 with light refreshments in the library—milk and cookies or juice and cookies.  Families mingle for 15 minutes, then I do a short welcome and explain the way the evening works.  Lastly, I send them on their way to their discussion group.  After a few minutes, I take the digital camera and eavesdrop on the groups, making sure to get lots of pictures for PR purposes.  I leave it up to the groups to run themselves and I’m always amazed at how some parent always steps up and seems to be a great facilitator.  (We talk during the introduction about some guidelines—making sure all have a turn to talk, not interrupting someone, etc.)

                I go around after about 35 minutes to give a 5 minute warning and I work really hard to keep to our time schedule and honor bedtimes.  Parents come back to the library with the books and grab their coats and go.  I clean up, and I’m out the door just before 8:00.  Feedback is always very positive and we always have “repeat” families until all their kids move on to another school.

The first year we offered this in my other district the librarians applied for (and got) a district mini-grant to purchase books and offer a spaghetti  supper  before the book discussions began.  I have asked for PTO money to purchase books or used book fair money, too.  Once you have enough titles for a few cycles, you can reuse the books every few years, and purchase new ones as you are able.

It really is a fairly simple program to run and it is great PR for the library!  Please leave a comment if you do something similar and can offer suggestions, or (if you try this), let me know how it goes!