If we want to increase our children’s literacy competences, we should start by strengthening the reading culture inside their families. In Flanders (Belgium), literacy is a top priority for education and child care, which should not be postponed until after the pandemic. In this blog message, we describe three corona-proof activities full of reading pleasure, developed by eight students of the Bachelor Program in Preschool Education (UCLL).
Book parade on the sidewalk – The book train
Students Lore and Mart joined the Book Parade (‘Boekenstoet’), a home reading project. Because home visits were not allowed, they built a book train, with which they brought stories to the doorstep. They engaged the children with enjoying the books in the train by reading the stories aloud.
[The locomotive functions as a storage place for blankets, pillows, sweets, dolls, … Behind the locomotive is a wagon, with a clearly visible display for the books. On top of the wagon is a kamishibai.]
‘For them, the reading moment are really fun, they even ask why we can’t come several times a week. So, for some families we really make a difference.’
‘Fun‘ is an important keyword for reading promotion initiatives (Kooij, 2019): reading promotion initiatives reach more parents and children when they are not experienced as a ‘pedantic’ but rather as a low-treshold initiative, when ‘meeting’ is central.
‘I just keep thinking about how we can convince the parents/children to keep participating and come along. We provide sweets, chocolate milk, … they receive a letter that not only contains some extra information, but also games they can play at home… I can’t really think of more ways to gain the parents’ trust.’
These doorstep visits offered the same benefits and opportunities as other home-reading projects (Stichting Lezen, 2017, p. 42): in addition to the practical advantage that parents did not have to travel, Lore and Mart could select books and develop storytelling activities more tailored to the family, and could, after a while develop a personal bond with the parents.
‘When it was time to go back home, and we had already stayed much longer than half an hour, we played a little trick on the mother. We rang the bell and I had to tell her that I had lost the children. The mom had to laugh right away, apparently they often do that! The mom thanked me heartily! It was a very nice moment where I really felt that we had made a difference.’
By joining an existing reading initiative of the local Diversity Department, Lore and Mart were able to build on the bond of trus hat already existed between the parents and the employees of the Diversity Department. This is in line with other family literacy projects: reading promotion initiatives benefit from seeking connection with parents through already existing initiatives and organizations, embedded in the local community (e.g. BookStart, Sikkema, 2019).
‘It was a great experience from which I have learned a lot! It was a unique opportunity to experience from the front row how difficult it is to get into the world of the target group and how difficult it is for these people to trust others .’
Free little libraries and library boxes
Students Lori and Aileen built a little free library in the center of the city. They thought of placing an interactive wall against the back of the station. The buttons on the interactive wall represented the covers of the picture books in the library. When the children pressed a button, they heard the short content of the book and could make their choice.
Students Sarah and Evelyn arranged a little free library within the context of an after-school childcare. They read aloud stories and organized motivating book related activities. In the evening the children could choose a take home a book from the library. In this way, Sarah and Evelyn ensured a qualitative reading environment outside the school context, that allowed for informal conversations about books and reading experiences.
‘We also took the opportunity to talk with the children, we got to know each other, presented our project, asked about their experiences with reading, what their interests are, we also let the children reflect after an activity.’
‘We used to have a library box, which gave us the opportunity to talk about books and comics with the children. Since we got rid of it, we don’t really talk about books anymore.’
Sarah and Evelyn also revitalized the initiative of the ‘library box’ in the after-school childcare, an initiative in which an employee of the childcare organization borrows books from the library for the children of the childcare.
The library box is one of the many possible ways in which libraries can bridge the gap to out-of-school childcare. Of course, this structural collaboration between out-of-school care and the library requires time, effort and commitment (Bequoye, 2018). Library staff members suggested involving parents in this collaboration. Parents could voluntarily pick up the library box from the library.
A book walk in the city. “Rabbit is looking for his book”
During the first lockdown, many families went on a ‘bear hunt’, inspired by the picture book ‘We are going on a bear hunt’. This inspired student Nele to develop a book walk in the city of Diest, or better yet: a quest based on a picture book story.
Nele took pictures of several places and locations in Diest, that were interesting for the target group, families with little reading culture. She digitized the pictures, making use of the app ‘clip2comic’ and used them for her own picture book, in which Rabbit has lost his book and is looking for it at those locations.
‘One of the success factors of my walk was using recognizable places from the environment of the children in the book and in real life. This created recognizability and motivated the children to participate.’
Nele mapped out a walking route in the city, Rabbit’s walking route, and developed activity cards per location. She also provided QR codes, which parents can scan to learn more about the location. She also guided some walks with groups of toddlers and older children.
‘Making the children feel competent by having them read cards to each other themselves was also a good idea. This had a positive effect on their self-confidence. Also letting the children express and use their experiences and knowledge during the walk, such as: showing the way, resulted in a high level of involvement.’
The walk ends in the library. No coincidence, because Nele’s initiative was precisely intended to lower the threshold to the library.
‘I made time to talk to the children about the library and books. I asked about their experiences, if they had already been there. Most of them had already been to the library with the school. But the kids weren’t that familiar with the book-lending system. So I explained how the library works. The children immediately wanted to take books with them.’
In the library, the children not only found Rabbit’s (favorite) books, but also some story bags, compiled by student Julie. The books in the bags were not chosen by chance: Julie selected picture books that were also used by the other students, in the book train and in the free little libaries, and of course also Nele’s book. This ensured recognizability among the children involved in the other initiatives, and recognizability lowers the threshold.
This project was developed with the help of the Department of Diversity of the City of Diest, the Public Library of Diest, the Home of the Child, and the after-school care Buitenschoolse Kinderopvang ‘De Kliek’.
Guest bloggers: Katrien Van Tilborg and Ingrid Van Canegem-Ardijns, lecturers in the Bachelor of Preschool Education UCLL in Diest and Heverlee.
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- Bequoye, S. (2018). Wat is leesbevordering? Opgehaald van Iedereen Leest: https://www.iedereenleest.be/over-lezen/wat-leesbevordering
- Kooij, F. (2019). Als de leesopvoeding niet vanzelf gaat. In Leesmonitor, Leesopvoeding. Hoe wijs je kinderen de weg naar het boek? (pp. 14-15). Amsterdam: Stichting Lezen.
- Stichting Lezen. (2017). Leesbevordering in gezinnen met weinig leescultuur. Over het hoe en waarom van het betrekken van laagopgeleide en laaggeletterde ouders bij de leesopvoeding thuis. Amsterdam: Stichting Lezen.