These days, California state standards require that even five-year-old readers “carry on a conversation [about a story] through multiple exchanges” and “ask and answer questions about key details and ask for clarification if something is not understood”. Faced with such high demands, what can families do to support their children?
For the dozen or so families who 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, provides FSD families with the skills and materials they need to unite in the reading and start powerful family discussions about what they read.
When parents read and discuss a book with their children, McDougall said, parents help children diversify their book choices, develop conversation skills, rediscover the joy of reading, and perhaps even reinforce their relationships with siblings and parents.
McDougall showed how to run a book club that achieves 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 class that evening. Participating families became quiet and attentive as McDougall read aloud from Jacqueline Woodson’s book. Every Kindness. This brief picture book has powerfully highlighted the psychic costs of bullying for both victims and perpetrators. The audience was visibly moved by the story; my own seven-year-old son, whom I had brought with me, responded by drawing the sketch of a sad face on which the rain was falling. McDougall’s own children were also moved, whom she had filmed participating in a family book club which she presented to parents as a role model. McDougall’s video showed how parents can provide guiding questions and prompts to children discussing books together, including a book’s characters, style and themes. McDougall also modeled “dialogical reading”, in which parents and children process what is happening in a book by discussing it as they read together.
Family book clubs, McDougall said, can be an important part of families’ overall commitment to literacy, a commitment that parents can also reinforce by reading themselves and visiting the library with children. (McDougall noted a 98% correlation between kids going to the library and reading more.)
These messages seemed to have had an effect among the families present, who came from various FSD schools, including Fern Drive, Golden Hill, Orangethorpe and Maple Elementary. Sure enough, the children smiled and jumped to their feet at the end of the meeting when it was time for each family to choose a set of books to take home and read together.
Other sets of books remain available at the district office. Families wishing to participate in the program can contact McDougall at [email protected] or follow on Instagram at @fsdreads. A follow-up zoom for families participating in this first round of book clubs will take place on Tuesday, May 24.