Bring Books to Life project teaches more than reading

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A young reader shows off her monster after reading “Hey! That’s My Monster” by Amanda Noll.

FARMINGTON – The Bring Books to Life Project, brought about by a partnership between Literacy Volunteers and the Franklin County Head Start program, is not just a book group for children, but rather a symbiotic learning experience between both early readers and their parents. Previous Literacy Volunteer Sue Thorson and current Literacy Volunteer and Head Start site coordinator, Danielle Hamlin, started the group four years ago as a way to address the low literacy rates among some parents in the community.

“They had a vision to encourage parents to read with their kids and to improve the quality of the reading experience for the child,” said Devaney Doak and Garrett Booksellers owner Kenny Brechner who is facilitating a fundraising initiative for the program through his local bookstore.

Bring Books to Life has a goal of getting parents more involved in their children’s education and using literacy to do this.

“It’s very obvious which kids have come from literacy-rich environments and which haven’t when they come into the classroom,” said Literacy Volunteer Sara Beech. “There are a lot of book groups that just give kids books to read, but this one is really for the parents. And that connection of parents sharing their books with their kids has a lasting impact.”

Of parents involved in the program, 93 percent of them said they were more comfortable reading to their kids having joined BBTL, and 95 percent of them said they’ve noticed it has improved their children’s engagement in school, according to organizers.

“It’s a pretty beautiful project,” said Beech, “It’s evolved a lot over the years.”

Bring Books to Life provides activities based on the book read by parents and children.

Beech was introduced to BBTL as a parent herself, and has watched it grow from a book group for adults to an immersive experience involving many different forms of engagement.

Families in the program are given a book each month as well as activity packets to be completed by their child. The books are chosen by parents from a list that the local schools approve, applying their curriculum standards to the book lists so that what kids read at home can relate to what they’re learning in school.

Before the pandemic, the BBTL group mandated that parents attend a weekly meeting hosted by both Head Start employees and Literacy Volunteers, during which time a Literacy Volunteer would model how to read their child’s book and discuss interactive strategies. But in the past year, the book group has moved to a virtual format, which many see as a benefit.

“I actually think it’s better and that we’ll keep this model after the pandemic. We’re reaching more parents now,” said Hamlin.

Now, any parent enrolled in the Head Start program can join the BBTL group. Parents still receive books and paired activity packets, but now meet over Zoom and have access to pre-recorded instructional videos. According to Beech, the program has doubled in size since moving to this model, now with 53 children in the group. Though some changes that have come about as a result of the pandemic have been met with negative responses, parents have nothing but positive reviews for the impacts that BBTL has had on them.

“Positive interaction is happening now because parents know what they’re doing. When the parent feels confident, the kids always benefit,” said Hamlin who has witnessed a variety of parents come through the program, one who joined BBTL because he was afraid of registering his daughter for kindergarten because he couldn’t read the necessary forms.

The word is spreading, and more and more parents are joining the Bring Books to Life group, which is a benefit to the community, but does require some planning on both Head Start’s and Literacy Volunteer’s parts. With the group’s growth, the funding from the Believe in Reading Foundation which previously covered all expenses, is now insufficient.

“The program is growing beyond its funding,” said Brechner on being approached by Literacy Volunteers and Head Start to help with their fundraising tactics.

To support the Bring Books to Life group, Devaney, Doak and Garrett Booksellers has launched a fundraising project where those willing and able can donate a gift certificate, books directly from a provided list, or order shirts which proceeds go to support BBTL. Those interested in supporting the fundraising event can do so by clicking here.

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