I used to wonder what was the point of running a Home Reading program. My students often did not do any actual reading with their parents in the evenings. The books went home, and came back and got ripped up or bent or worse covered in something sticky. Very few children actually were reading the books so why bother?
But once I had my own kids I realized how important a Home Reading program was. We moved our children to a new school so my oldest had a fantastic Home Reading program in first grade, but my youngest did not. The new school did not have the resources set up to facilitate it, they wanted us, as parents, to go to the library and find our own books. Now I happen to be lucky enough to live in an area where there are a lot of stay-at-home moms. But I am not one of them. Getting the books sent home from the school every day for my oldest, was a godsend. Searching out books for my younger was not as easy. Truth be told, I eventually just brought books home from my own classroom to read with her every night.
Where I work, both parents usually work. And many of them have 2 jobs, so they are rarely home. And the grandparents do not drive, so getting to the public library is difficult. But also, expecting that these parents will have the time to sit down with the kids every night to listen to them read is also not possible for some families. Although I was frustrated with the fact that these books were not being read at home, I also knew that I needed to help the parents who DID have time to read with their kids but not enough time to source out their own books.
Something needed to change in my program.
My philosophy about teaching reading is that children learn to read by actually reading a lot. And reading the same text over and over again can be beneficial. And kids who struggle, read more slowly and also read fewer words in a minute, than strong readers. So I decided to modify my plan slightly. So I knew I needed to provide lots of opportunities for my students to read and re-read their Home Reading books.
I continued to send home a book every night. Each child was expected to read the book with their parent(s). The struggling readers would read their book to me before they took it home so that they could read it with minimal help from the parent. I sent home a Reading Log that the kids were expected to fill out for each book. And I added the incentive that if they read 20 books, they got to choose a prize from my prize box. I hoped this would motivate the kids to ask their parents to listen to them read.
More kids started completing their Reading Logs but I still had a large number of kids who were not even taking the book out of their backpack each night. So I needed to modify the program even more. I started thinking about those parents who work a lot and maybe could read with their child once or twice a week. Those kids needed an opportunity to read their Home Reading books every day too.
So I decided to add this to part of the morning routine. Every morning the kids would put their Home Reading bags on their desks when they came in. When our morning meeting was done, I would pair the kids off to read their Home Reading books aloud. And I would give them 5 minutes each to read their book to the other (this allowed the kids with lengthier books to only read an excerpt to their partner and kept the attention of children who had poor listening skills). And you know what? The kids LOVED it. They loved reading to their peers. I really ramped it up by telling them how lucky they were to be able to share their book with a friend. If they finished early, I trained the child who was reading to talk about their favorite part of the book.
Next, I assigned a writing activity to the class; something like a Journal, or a seasonal writing activity. The children who had not completed their reading log the night before had the opportunity to fill in the reading log and then do the writing activity. The others could move straight into their writing. Everyone had the chance to work towards a prize in my prize box, and the kids learned the skills of how to read with a partner and how to talk about what they had just read.
How to Implement
My home reading program is fairly simple, yet very organized. If you do the organization first, then the day to day becomes really easy. In my school we have 4 tubs of Home Reading books for Second Grade. Two of them are stored in my room, and the other 2 are in the other Second Grade room. We rotate through them over the year.
In each tub the books are levelled by the old Reading Recovery System (colors) But on the lid of the box is a key which includes the colors, the numbers from the DRA levelling system and the letters from the Benchmark system so that we can use the testing results from any of these 3 programs to group our students into reading groups, and distribute the Home Reading books in the same groups. We have grouped the books by DRA color and then wrapped them with elastics to keep them together. This makes it easy to switch out books as the kids move up levels during the year.
I have 4 reading groups and they are named by color. I have 4 colored baskets that I keep the Home Reading books in for the kids to choose from. After they have finished reading to a friend in the morning they store their Home Reading book bag in the basket for the day. The reading log stays in the bag.
In September I give each child a large ziplock bag. I print out a label with their name and then I use packing tape to secure it to the bag. I have tried using sharpies but they wear off. I have tried the labels without the packing tape and if the bag gets wet, the label wears off. So using the label AND the packing tape works well. If you are worried about the bags lasting all year, you can use duck tape to run around the bottom 3 edges of the bag. They will look nicer and be stronger, but I usually just tape up the bags as they break, because most of them will last the year.
Around my room, I have put the colored baskets that I store the Home Reading books that are being used. I used to place them all in one spot, but I found that if my class has a lot of children with poor self-regulation skills, they tend to mix up the books into the wrong boxes and parents start to complain that the book their child got was too easy, or too difficult. So each box is placed far away from the other boxes to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Remember that you just have to figure out how to get them to read the book. At home is preferred, but not always going to happen. Here are some other suggetions for increasing your participation in a Home Reading program.
- Get them to read it to the teacher before they take it home at night.
- Get them to sit down and read it to themselves when they come into the class in the morning.
- Partner up the kids and get them to read to each other (like in my class), or partner up with another class, or a buddy class and get the kids to read it then.
- Do a daily, weekly, or monthly, family literacy time and invite the parents or caregivers to come in for 15 minutes in the morning to read with the kids. My own children’s teachers did this, and seeing as I work full-time, my in-laws sometimes went, or my own parents, or parents of other children would listen to my child read.