Friday, September 23, 2011

Partnering With Parents - Week 3

It's time for another guest post in our series about working with parents! We have already had some great ideas! I love reading about what others are doing to get parents involved with reading in their classrooms. This week, we have a little different perspective. Our guest blogger is Alyson Beecher, she is a principal in Calfornia. I love reading Alyson's tweets about how involved she is in supporting literacy at her school. Alyson tweets at @alybee930 and blogs at Kid Lit Frenzy. Thanks you for these great ideas, Allyson!!

Helping Parents Connect with their Children’s Reading
When I think back on my childhood, I don’t ever remember my parents reading aloud to me.  They must have at some point when I was small, but I just don’t have any childhood memory of it.  What I do have are two memories that significantly impacted me as a reader.  First, my parents communicated to me that reading was important by allowing me the time and space to read, as well as, as much access to books as a limited budget would allow.  Second, my father – who was not a fast reader – read every book that I asked him to read when I was finished reading it.  Never once did he complain about reading probably 30 something Nancy Drew books.  (The man deserves sainthood.)  My father wasn’t much of a conversationalist and I don’t remember any in-depth discussions afterwards, but it still created a connection between us.  One that has lasted for decades and one where we still share books; pulling aside a favorite mystery to give to one another. 

As educators, finding the right way to engage parents in their child’s reading is critical but also a challenge.  But how do we do this effectively.  Here are a few ways of engaging families in reading with their child.

Teaching Parents to Read Aloud to Their Child
Early on in my career, I was naïve enough to think – “Of course, everyone knows how to read to their child.”  Then one day, while trying to do a literacy activity with a group of parents of young children, I realized they had no idea of how to sit with their child, or read the book in an engaging manner, or to ask questions of their child about the book.  Storytelling, oral storytelling, was a part of their culture but sitting down to read a book was not something they were comfortable with.  If I wanted parents to read with their child, I had to model for them as well as help them understand the importance of this particular activity.   

Family Storytimes
Every year, our Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) sponsors an evening storytime complete with pajamas and milk & cookies.  Sometimes teachers lead the evening and other times we have brought in local booksellers to book talk to parents and do oral storytelling.   This evening event is always successful.  Families who might never come out for any other meeting seem to show up dressed in pajamas and ready to read.

School-wide Literacy Events
Each year, our school looks for several literacy activities that we can do with all students and encourage our families to come and participate. Each year, we have held an annual celebration for Dr. Seuss’ Read Across America Day.  Last year, we did a school-wide Chalk festival inspired by the book CHALK by Bill Thomson.  This year, we are partnering with our local Children’s Museum during Art Night (a city-wide event) to promote literacy and a new favorite picture book, STARS by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee.  We also eliminated our annual catalog fund-raiser and replaced it with a Read-a-thon (structured carefully to allow for all children to participate).   This year we are also considering having children dress up as their favorite literary character as part of our Halloween Parade.

Mother & Daughter/Father & Son Book clubs
Any and all kinds of book clubs can be successful with families.  I have partnered with parents to lead small book clubs for 4 to 6 children, as well as, holding a summer reading club at a local park.  We have also explored ways to do a parent/child book club.  This seems to work quite well with tweens and teens. 

Guest Mystery Reader
At a friend’s child’s school, they ask parents to come in and read aloud to the class.  Each week, the children try to guess which parent is coming through the use of some clues and hints. 

Literacy Cafés
At our school, one of my parents (a former teacher) and I developed a program we call Literacy Cafés.  In order to make them successful, we need the support and help of parents.  Some parents make donations of materials and others have time to help set-up or participate in the Cafés.  The children’s enthusiasm for these Cafés has prompted further parent support. 
Wrapping Up
I realize that all of this can be overwhelming and I don’t recommend trying them all at once.  Start with something simple – one or two activities that seem manageable – and then grow into more activities or bigger things.  The critical thing is that you start somewhere and that you seek to create a culture or community of readers at your school.  Your enthusiasm for books will be contagious.   

Can you believe all these great ideas!?! I love the idea of organizing an event that brings students and their families together to celebrate reading. I'm doing an event for the first time this year and hoping to bring my students who are in seven different schools together. Has anyone else tried events like this? I would love to hear what you have done that works at your school!  Thanks again, Alyson!


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