My left-field lesson - Nourished by reading

28th March 2014 at 00:00
How one school is using books - and cake - to build a community

Reading is often seen as an activity to be undertaken alone, but at my school we have turned it into something that is very much the opposite: a foundation upon which community and family relationships are built.

We do this through the reading cafe. Here, we invite students who don't do much reading at home to come in for an hour after school with their parents or guardians. We also invite retired members of the local community. And we put on a spread of home-made cakes and excellent books to reward their attendance.

It works like this. On their first visit, the children and parents complete "promise cheques" together. In return for the child reading a set number of books, the parent promises to do something with them. In the past, we have had pledges such as "making a catapult with dad" and "painting mum's nails". There are also school rewards on offer such as non-uniform days.

Unlike many clubs children attend these days, the reading cafe is very relaxed and has few rules. The invitation asks students and parents to attend, eat cake, have a drink and read with each other or complete one of the readingrelated activities.

Those activities include adults or older children typing up stories dictated by the students. These are then printed and taken home to be read to another adult and have illustrations added. This has been really popular.

Sometimes the retired community members form a group of students and parents and lead a reading task. We had one group of boys reading a science fiction book in this way. Most recently, the children have enjoyed reading in a "den" - below a drape thrown over a table. Adults read to children and older children frequently read to preschoolers. Groups sprawl across the floor with their heads buried in their books.

Although reading is central to the cafe, the friendly atmosphere also encourages parents to share issues. There have been additional benefits, too: some families simply need time in the warmth with some food, and the cafe provides divorced fathers with a base for having access to their children.

The relationships between the school and parents have improved - teachers pop in for some cake and a chat. And we have picked up on some really basic family needs - we now stock emergency food bank vouchers. It is also a good social network for many of the parents, who support each other.

This simple recipe has great benefits, but its success depends on a good mix of ages and socio-economic groups (and home baking). The promise cheques really motivate students to encourage their parents to listen to them read at home.

The initiative is now spreading and proving just as popular in other schools. The rewards are not only the nurture and improvement of reading skills but also the building of family relations and the added community support that the club facilitates.

Fiona Mullett is deputy headteacher at Harting Primary School in West Sussex, England

Top 10 reading resources

1. Better together

Boost your students' skills with a paired reading programme using this comprehensive guide.

2. Poster priorities

Everyone needs a little motivation, so try keeping students' attention on their reading goals by putting these colourful posters up around your classroom.

3. Parent presentation

Phonics can be a difficult subject for students, and it can be even more confusing for parents. Explain all with this PowerPoint that outlines how schools get students reading.

4. On the same page

This set of resources will give you everything you need to introduce regular partner reading sessions to your class.

5. Book marks

Keeping track of what your students are reading can be tricky, but this worksheet ensures that children record not just what they are reading but what they enjoyed about the book and information such as plot and characters.

6. Reading race

Everyone likes a competition, so bring a sense of rivalry to reading with these printable reading challenge cards.

7. Critically speaking

Stimulate young minds with these thought-provoking questions for critically analysing whichever book they are reading.

8. New horizons

Inspire parents and students alike with this resource aimed at increasing how much children read and expanding the types of reading matter they choose.

9. Tidy minds

If your library is in a mess, look no further for a solution. These nifty cards will remind children to be neat and make organising your class book collection much easier.

10. Guide the way

Keep track of children's targets and progress with these guided reading record sheets.


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