Building the bridge from school to home;Reviews;Books

25th June 1999 at 01:00
Reading At Home, a guide for parents. Channel 4 pound;9.99 Children and Parents Enjoying Reading. By Peter Branston and Mark Provis David Fulton pound;13

There is always an outbreak of ironic laughter when in-service videos show a teacher in sole charge of a small group of children and the rest of the class are surprisingly silent. The Channel 4 video, Reading at Home, is likely to give rise to a similar reaction, as parents see sequence after sequence of adults cosying up with children in one-to-one intimacy, in surroundings of show-home tidiness and eerie serenity. That caveat aside, this is a useful resource, in which an academic and a classroom practitioner take turns to respond to common parental concerns.

The unreal ambience of the reading sessions is balanced by a pleasing honesty about the difficulty of getting tired minds to concentrate on reading. We see children's attention wandering, one girl yawning extravagantly as her mother attempts to teach her the alphabet, and another asking prematurely for the video she's been promised at the end of the book. There are many helpful messages in this short tape, which stresses the need for reading at home to take place in a relaxed atmosphere.

The trouble with home-school partnerships is that they can often generate unrealistic expectations of both parents and teachers, thereby demolishing the "relaxed atmosphere" that might otherwise have prevailed. That doesn't have to be the outcome, but it takes a lot of thought to avoid it. Peter Branston and Mark Provis's acronym for their home-school reading programme is CAPER (children and parents enjoy reading). Their book is a step-by-step guide to setting up a CAPER partnership.

The experience in my own school, which follows a very similar programme, is that the partnership begins to break down in key stage 2. The authors acknowledge that their materials were piloted with children aged six to eight. The Channel 4 video ends with a statement from a girl who has clearly become a reader for life: "Sometimes I feel out of this world completely". That's what we hope many eight-plus children feel, and the parental role from that point on changes in a way that is acknowledged in the video but not in the BranstonProvis book.

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