When I was teaching second grade, I was struggling to get my students to read every night at home. I knew how important it was, yet my students were returning empty book logs. I knew that I needed to make a change.
This was when I decide to implement a take home book bag system in my classroom. I put together a class set of bags, each based on an author or specific theme. Inside each bag were 2-3 books, a writing journal, a game or craft, and family activities all connected to the topic of the bag. Learn more about the bags in this blog post. My students (and their families) loved them! Here are some reasons why:
Provides Access to Books
After a conversation with one of my students, I discovered that many students don’t have homes filled with books. Sometimes there are little to no reading materials in the house and they don’t always have access to a library. This makes it challenging for students to read each night. By allowing students to check out book bags each week, I was able to give them 2-3 books to read without losing books from my classroom library.
Acts as a Guide for Parents
“It’s all about parent education – helping parents help their children.” ~ Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook
I’ve realized that parents were struggling with reading at home with their children. It’s not that they didn’t want to, they were just overthinking the process. Using book bags, I gave them a guide to engage their children in the reading process. The discussion questions were great conversation starters, while the family activities provided real-world connections to the stories. I discussed more myths in this post.
Sitting still to read a book can be a challenge for children, especially after they have been in school all day. I worked hard to include a game or hands-on activity in every bag that connected to that bag’s theme. This allowed my students to get up and moving after enjoying a story.
I also tried to give a list of activities in each bag that got families out of the house and exploring in the real world. I found that this really brought the stories to life for kids and their enjoyment of reading was so much higher as a result.
Allows for Student Choice
I had a variety of book bags to choose from, which gave my students the opportunity to choose which topics or authors they would be interested in exploring each week. They aren’t limited to just one book that I assigned but instead they had the option of picking out books that they would truly enjoy.
Book bags made it easy for parents and myself because they provided a consistent, year-long program of reading. While each bag was unique in its activities and discussion questions, they all followed the same framework. The structure makes it easy to create a daily habit of reading at home each week. Students knew what to expect and really looked forward to it!
Creates a Social Experience
“For many, reading needs to be a social experience, giving them the chance to share their feelings about the book and it’s characters.” ~ Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook
I provided students with books and discussion (not comprehension) questions to accompany them, which gave my families the opportunity to engage in a conversation about the stories that they read together. Since all the students in my classroom were sharing the book bags, they were able to carry those discussions over into the classroom. They would recommend bags to each other and share their reactions to the books inside (which made my teacher heart flutter!).
Can be Voluntary
Book bags were a voluntary program for each child. In my classroom, I didn’t require students to participate, although almost all did. I sent home permission slips offering families the opportunity to opt into the idea. Once a student brought a bag home, they weren’t required to complete the activities inside. I only asked that they read the books. My main goal was to get them reading!
In each book bag, I placed a writing journal and creative prompts to get them thinking about the topic of the bag. Students had 2-3 questions to choose from that allowed them to think about their own lives and how it connected to the books. Sometimes I even left it open-ended for them to simply share their thoughts. I encouraged family discussion of all the questions before they chose one to write about.
The book bags were unique, in that they get the whole family involved in the reading process. By providing books, students were able to read with their parents, siblings or even friends. The games and crafts got everyone invested in the fun. The family activities allowed for the whole family to participate in bringing the concepts of the books to life.
Bridges the Gap between Home and School
As families read aloud with their children, it provided students with a way to to share what they had learned in school. There were a lot of topics for students to choose from – many of which we were studying in our classroom (such as time, money, weather and community helpers). As kids read the books, they were able to share their knowledge with their families. It sure beats the “what did you learn at school” question!
This book bag system was a game changer in my classroom. My students were eager to read every single night and they were so engaged in the process. Families were so thankful that this system guided them towards creating life-long readers in their home!
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