This article was first published in CILIP’s PMLG Access Journal Issue 7 2015. All rights @Knightystar (Stella Chevalier).
Parent reading groups: Promoting adult literacy, wellbeing and reading role models.
Reading groups for parents – benefitting parents and their families
There are many literacy initiatives emphasizing the importance of parents reading to their children daily. Whilst this is important for the child, what about the parents? Do they read themselves or even like reading?
In Higashino’s recent crime fiction book, Malice (pg 42), character Nonoguchi bemoans the lack of reading parents:
“…that the decline in reading among children was largely the fault of their parents. Parents these days don’t read books themselves, but they feel they should make their children read. Since they aren’t readers, however, they have no idea what to give their children….”
A recent report from the National Literacy Trust highlights the importance of parents as reading role models to children, especially for children ages 7-15 “This survey highlights the continuing importance of parents in the life of children and teenagers. Parents are not only role models in a general sense but are also the prime figures who can inspire reading. Almost without exception, every breakdown of the data found that family members, normally parents, were the most likely role models for that group of children” (Clark, Osborne and Dugdale 2009)(1).
So why are public libraries not emphasizing the importance of reading for parents? Especially if evidence shows that they are the biggest role model to their children. Many parents want to relax at the end of a busy day and may feel they only have energy to sit in front of a screen. Yet the benefits of encouraging parents to regularly read are significant, especially for wellbeing. A recent study through the University of Sussex found that just six minutes of uninterrupted reading can reduce stress levels by up to 68% (2) With recent Reading Agency research (3) highlighting the wellbeing and educational benefits reading for pleasure brings.
A double whammy: encouraging parents to regularly read can improve their wellbeing, and indirectly support their children as reading role models into their teens.
Libraries offering support to parent-readers benefit the parents and indirectly in the longer term, their children. Parents visiting libraries with their preschool children for rhyme times and craft events discover that the library is a safe space in their community, providing young children with free educational support. So why not provide reading groups to these parents, who would benefit themselves by reading and also aid their children’s reading habits.
Parent book clubs run throughout UK public libraries in many forms including the Babes in Arms group run at Sanderstead Library through Croydon libraries and Books With Buggies run through Devon libraries.
In this article I will summarise the parent book club I formed at the London Borough of Sutton Library Service: The Preschool Parents Book Club.
This article includes points for consideration and useful tools that have assisted in allowing me to maintain a vibrant and lively reading group for parent of preschool aged children in the London Borough of Sutton that has been running now for over three years.
The formation of the preschool parents’ book club: A daytime book club
Caring for preschool children is a demanding around the clock job. Combining their care with juggling older children, jobs and busy lives, this specific reading group needed to fit in around those parental time constraints.
Our group started meeting once a month on a Friday morning. Following discussions with parents after library rhyme time, parents felt that Friday mornings were the least time-pressured morning of the week when the majority of interested parents could attend. The time 10.30 – 11.30am allowed parents to drop off school aged children off before coming to the club. It also allowed the meeting to take place before lunchtime and hungry children demands!
Whilst the club generally meets on the last Friday of every month, meetings avoid half terms and school holidays to cater for family commitments. Meeting dates are agreed 2-3 months ahead, with members notified of future dates through library events leaflets and social media sources such as the library’s facebook page and the book club’s specifically created goodreads site which members also join when they start the group. Virtual presence increases continuity for busy parents.
Two books at the ‘heart’ of the book club. Book 1: Quick Reads and short stories
To cater for varying levels of reading ability and time constraints, two books are available every month to read. Parents are asked to read at least one of the books for discussion at the next meeting.
One book is a normal book club sized text, however, differing from a normal book club, we also offer a second, short book, usually a quick read book that would take an average reader about 1 hour to complete, or a parent of a preschool child up to one month. This means that members attending the next meeting have read one book ready for discussion. This keeps book discussions at the heart of every meeting rather than it becoming a child focused playgroup set in the library. Our library service already has plenty of opportunities for parents to meet with other parents for child centred activities but this book club is special as it allows the parents some ‘me’ time to talk about books and keep them at the heart of the meeting and their own reading focused even with child related derailments.
For the first 6 months, the Reading Agency’s Six Book Challenge (Now Reading Ahead) was used as a way to add incentive to parents to continue reading and keep coming to the first six meetings. It also meant that if they couldn’t finish a normal book-club sized read, they were not put off reading and could still finish a book to discuss at the next meeting. Ensuring a quick read book had been completed allowed parents to slowly get back into reading again.
Many members ‘broke-the-ice’ by discussing the quick read, highlighting that it was the first book many had completed since having their most recent child. A few members commented on how, by finishing a whole book, it has given them the confidence and desire to make time for reading again.
Giving members the choice of two books means that reading is also differentiated, working with parental time constraints and reader ability. Parents can therefore choose which book they want to read or feel they have time to complete for discussion at next month’s meeting.
Keeping books at the heart of this group also means that new members can join in at any time by collecting either both or one of the books they want ready for the next meeting.
Book 2: the normal sized book club book including new books, reviews and Cityread London
To keep parents interest, the longer book choice is chosen from a range of fiction genres and non-fiction books as a way of challenging the club members. These books are chosen to tie-in with current reading trends and include books recently turned into films, new book as offered to book groups through The Reading Agency Book Club Noticeboard, recent award winning books and for the last three years our March/April book has been the Cityread London book:
Author events usually run in the evening and for many parents, this opportunity cannot happen due to child care and juggling that busy life! Our group has managed to meet authors through literary links, including a day time visit from Sophie Hannah, a Zadie Smith book club event and organising a virtual Q & A session with author Katarina Bivald. Having read their books prior to these events members felt this was a special highlight and gave them the incentive to complete reading a longer book.
Virtual author visits works well with daytime reading groups, can be easy to arrange, convenient to both author and parent-reader and connects authors to their audience.
Social media tools supporting parent book clubs: Facebook, goodreads and The Reading Agency
Because children and best laid plans can go awry, a ‘virtual’ replica group runs via the goodreads social site to support the actual club. Our goodreads site is a closed group coordinated by the same facilitator as the actual group, allowing members to feel confident that they know the people interacting on this virtual site. It allows members to rate and review the books they have read, to explore further reading, especially if they like certain authors, take part in polls, and identify dates for future meetings and events. In short, it acts as a continual base to notify members and for members to notify the facilitator about the book club. Tools include reminders to members to reply if they can attend. As a facilitator, this is very useful as it allows me to order in the correct number of books prior to the meeting. It also allows members to notify if they are going to pick up the books later on.
The layout of the goodreads site is a useful continuity tool for parents. Being very visual and easy to follow, they are able to see from the first webpage future meetings dates and current books being read. They can also write reviews/ rate books that they might not have had time to talk about at the last meeting through being absent or time/child constraints.
To date, five members have taken time away from the club and returned to re-join the club. They were able to use this social media tool as a way of catching up where they left off.
Facebook – monthly updates and interactions
To promote the club to non-members and remind members of future events regular posts are mentioned on our library’s Facebook page too:
The Reading Agency – Being a listed reading group on The Reading Agency’s ‘Find a reading group’ site, allows people to find us if new to the area. The site also give us access to a range of reading group offers to use in our group and a virtual space to log group book reviews.
Increased use of library resources, parents as role models and developing a family library routine
Members maintain that meetings are important to them as a way of allocating regular library time for their own reading. They confirmed that when they came for meetings they also explored the library for other books either before or after the meeting for themselves as well as their children. This means that the library becomes an important resource regularly visited by families with both children and parents moving more around the library and using more of its resources. Children coming to the meetings become familiar with the wider library surroundings than just the location of the children’s section.
This highlights that a parent-focused book group supports family reading and family library use.
The preschool parents’ book club was established to support parent readers with limited time constraints; to encourage their reading habit giving parents wellbeing benefits and displaying them as reading role models to their children.
Parent reading groups can run during the day, with the timing of the meetings considerate of parental pressures, such as other children, school holidays, school pick up and drop off times.
Offering parents the choice of two books, a longer and a shorter book each month gives parents choice regarding what book they feel they can read in consideration of their own time constraints, reading ability and book variety. It gives the member control of their own reading choice and keeps reading at the heart of the group: Members can all finish one book for future discussions. Books are discussed in consideration of other club members so as not to cause any ‘spoilers’ and to actively encourage parents to keep reading.
Regular meetings facilitated through social media tools keep parents up-to-date with book club information, supporting parents if they miss meetings, allowing continuity and support in their reading.
Encouraging parent readers to public libraries has many benefits including wellbeing by reducing stress, meeting other parents, exploring more of the resources available in their local library and the parents to become reading role models to their children. It can help reignite the reading habit that might have taken a backseat.
One parent recently commented:
“I love coming to this group.. It enlivens my brain again to remember what I was once like; it’s stopping my brain from feeling full of cotton wool all the time”.
During the past 3 years over 25 members have registered with the preschool parents’ book club.
Members have left the group due to moving out of the area, going back to work or once their children have started at school.
5 members returned to meetings after an absence of more than 4 months, including 3 parents who returned after having another child.
Current members average around 6-7 people per meeting, sometimes with different members making up the groups compared with the previous month’s members.
Two members come into the London Borough of Sutton from neighbouring Boroughs to attend meetings.
One member said:
“There is nothing like this in our area and I keep telling people about this group. There should be more groups like this.”
I couldn’t agree more.
- Reaching Out with Role Models. Role models and young people’s reading (Clark,C, Osborne, S.& Dugdale, G.) April 2009. National Literacy Trust.
- “Reading Can Help Reduce Stress” March 30th 2009. The Daily Telegraph
- Literature Review: The impact of reading for pleasure and empowerment. BOP Consulting. The Reading Agency. June 2015