These days, California state standards demand that even five-year old readers “continue a conversation [about a story] through multiple exchanges” and “ask and answer questions about key details and request clarification if something is not understood.” Facing such high demands, what can families do to support their children?
For the dozen families who had gathered at the Fullerton School District office on April 19, Emily McDougall provided a simple but powerful answer—family book clubs. Funded by a grant from the Cotsen Foundation for the Art of Teaching, Emily McDougall, District Program Coordinator for Educational Services, is offering FSD families the know-how and materials they need to join together in reading and to launch powerful family discussions of what they’ve read.
When parents read and discuss a book together with their children, McDougall said, parents help kids to diversify their book choices, develop their conversation skills, rediscover the joy of reading, and maybe even strengthen their relationships with their siblings and parents.
McDougall modeled how to conduct a book club that accomplishes these goals. The most important step, of course, is to read a book together, which McDougall did for the thirty children and parents gathered in the FSD classroom that evening. Participating families grew silent and attentive as McDougall read aloud Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness. This brief picture book powerfully brought home the psychic costs of bullying for victims and perpetrators alike. The audience was visibly moved by the story; my own seven-year-old son, whom I’d brought with me, responded by drawing a sketch of a sad face with rain pouring down over it. Also moved were McDougall’s own children, whom she had filmed participating in a family book club that she presented to the parents as a model. McDougall’s video showed how parents can provide guiding questions and prompts to kids discussing books together, including a book’s characters, style, and themes. McDougall also modeled “dialogic reading,” in which parents and children process what’s happening in a book by discussing it as they read along together.
Family book clubs, McDougall said, can be one important component of families’ overall commitment to literacy, a commitment parents can also reinforce by reading themselves and by making visits with children to the library. (McDougall noted a 98% correlation between children going to the library doing more reading.)
These messages seemed to have met their mark among the attending families, who came from a range of FSD schools, including Fern Drive, Golden Hill, Orangethorpe, and Maple Elementary. Certainly, the children smiled and hopped on their feet at the end of the meeting when the time came for each family to pick out a set of books to take home and read together.
More book sets remain available at the District Office. Families wishing to participate in the program can reach out to McDougall at email@example.com or follow on Instagram on @fsdreads. A follow-up Zoom for families participating in this initial round of book clubs will be held on Tuesday May 24.