Friday, January 21, 2011

Start a Book Club With Your Kiddos

This post is in response to some moms at dance this morning who begged and pleaded (ok, they just asked) for me to explain how I set up Monkey's book club.

First, this is hardly a new concept.  Years ago, I read about a group of moms that had formed a book club with their daughters and I fell in love with the idea.  Unfortunately, at the time, I didn't have kiddos.  This article was about a group of moms with preteen girls, so even after having my girls, I thought it would be a long while before I could follow this model.

When I taught 4th grade, I started literature circles with my students and they were a huge hit.  If you are looking for a book that will show you how to set up a book club in a classroom setting or a more formal book club, Harvery Daniel's book Literature Circles is a wonderful resource.  The model in this book, as well as my personal classroom experience, is what I used to orgainze a book club for my 6 year old.

Until this year, I thought I would have to wait a few years to start a book club with my oldest.  One night, as we were reading our bedtime chapter, I realized this was a perfect age to start a read aloud book club.  I had already been working on Monkey's social/friendship skills, and this would be a great way to incorporate reading and friendships.  Win/Win!

So how do I do it?

There are a several things to consider when setting up a book club for kids, and you should take time to think through everything before jumping in.  Once you set it up, though, it practically runs itself and the benefits for your child and for you are priceless.

First, you need to take into account group size.  I would suggest no more than 5.  We started with 4 girls, and added a 5th once the group was established.  4 was a great number to start with and once we had a cohesive group, we were able to seamlessly add a 5th.

When thinking of the 4-5 kids to add to the group, it's important to take these thing into account:

1. Age- We have 3 kinders and 2 1st graders.  The kids should be close in reading level, but it's not necessary or realistic for them to be on the same reading level.

2. Interests- Though it isn't necessary to have only boys or only girls, it is important that the group share similar interests.  This makes it easier to choose books for the group to read, and allows the chance to create meaningful culminating activities at the end of each book that will be exciting for each group member.

3. Proximity- For a book club to really flourish with young children, it is important to meet weekly.  This is much easier if you have children in the same school or neighborhood.  Our group is from the same neighborhood except for one child, and this makes it so nice for drop offs and pick ups.  The club will only meet about an hour, so it's nice to not have far to drive for pick up or drop off.

4. No younger siblings- This can be tricky.  Our group works so well because the younger siblings, dubbed "The Littles" go and have a playdate at another house while the big girls are meeting for book club.  We do try to include The Littles in the culminating activities, and several of them have told me they can't wait to be old enough for book club.

5. Book choice- It is crucial that the kids have a say/vote in the books they read.  With younger children (below 2nd grade), I suggest having a read aloud club and focusing on comprehension versus decoding skills.  This means that the parent is reading the book aloud to the child and the club focuses on book discussions- Reading to Learn instead of Learning to Read.  Once the children are independent readers of longer chapter books, the club can master both objectives.

Once you have your group, you need to set a meeting time.  This can be tricky with all our busy schedules.  The time that worked for all of use was 5-6, which is usually my family's dinnertime.  So, we got creative and made it into a dinner book club.  Each week, the girls eat together (and practice dining etiquette- a bonus!) while we discuss our book.  This is so fun and gives the girls a chance to practice listening skills, comprehension skills, and table manners.

Here is an outline of the weekly meeting:

5:00-5:10 Girls arrive and visit until everyone is present
5:10-5:30 Girls eat dinner while discussing the book and practice taking turns speaking without interrupting, and using table manners to try new foods and ask for more food, etc. This could be done with a snack if the meeting is not during a meal time
5:30 Girls share their responses on the assigned reading from their reading journals. Each week, there is an easy assignment for the assigned reading such as, "Good readers visualize as they read.  Draw a picture of a mental image you had while listening to the chapter."
5:40 I read aloud the next chapter and stop at intervals for discussion
5:50 The girls write or draw a response to the chapter we read and share it
6:00 Girls are picked up with their assignment for the week (1 chapter and response to share at the next meeting)

This is a packed hour, for sure.  But it is exciting for the girls and once the routines are established, it runs like clockwork.  Note: When starting the group and establishing routines, I did not read a chapter aloud to the group.  I only read a couple of pages and we spent more time practicing adding responses to our journals.

At the end of each book (which is every 4-6 weeks), we do a culminating activity- like our recent friendship party.  This meeting is focused on fellowship with the members and celebration for finishing the book.  We have visited the zoo, gone to a movie, etc.

If you would like more info on how to set up your own book club, book lists, and ideas on how to set up reading journals and response prompts, as well as a forum for sharing ideas and asking questions, please email me and I will add you to the book club yahoo group.

Happy Reading!

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