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Margaret Aylward Community College

The BoB Project is a family literacy programme in collaboration with the HSCL of the school, to develop a home environment conducive to reading for pleasure. Books and other reading materials are provided to families who may benefit from a focused literacy approach. Reading and child development, the benefits of reading for pleasure, advice on ways to assist their children in reading and similar supports are given throughout the year. It encompasses home, JCSP library, public library and the community.

This project began soon after I arrived at Margaret Aylward CC with then HSCL Aideen Nangle’s idea for us to work together in an innovative way, to promote literacy. From years of home visits Aideen had realised that books for pleasure were scarce or completely absent in many homes. We began to discuss the feasibility of providing books to homes and what kind of structure could be built around that.

We settled on the name ‘BoB’ – Box of Books. Simple, self-explanatory and allowed us to plan for a future ‘Bob’ graphic, or character. We selected three families; all of had junior students and various younger siblings. As soon as I received the family compositions, I began selecting and buying appropriate reading materials. We also designed a laminated reading poster to be placed in the box of books and magnetised for easy viewing on fridges. This tongue-in-cheek poster listed what to read, when to read, where to read, why, how and with who. The answers being anyone can read, anything, anywhere at any time, alone, with friends, family, over Skype (or Zoom now) and even to a pet!

Structurally, we decided that the boxes of books would be retained by the families, with no onus to return anything. In this way, parental fears of lost or damaged books were negated and they could just focus on their family enjoying the books and materials. I think this was one of the most important decisions made in the planning process, as many parents were discouraged from using libraries, having experienced fines and replacement of missing books. Libraries Ireland have since adopted our thinking on this 😊

We used medium sized plastic crates for the boxes, after discussing prettier versions from Ikea which would not have been as hard-wearing and which ran the risk of the books being dumped out for other uses.

At this point I contacted Children’s Books Ireland, who were very enthusiastic and offered a stock pick in their Aladdin’s Cave of magic and marvels. A dream day for a librarian! Selection was based on sibling ages and interests, and according to interest and readability level for the students known to me. Books for parents included quick reads by well-known Irish authors in the New Island ‘Open Door’ series, as well as magazines, cookbooks, travel brochures, catalogues and newspapers. Props, discussion suggestions around the books and family activities based on picture books were also included, for example – a book called ‘Mouse and Paper Boat’ – we bought a small mouse cuddly toy and included instructions for making your own paper boat. ‘Imaginary Fred’ – we included a template to describe and draw a portrait of your own imaginary friend etc. We also slipped a selection of cookies into each box.

Books in the Home

Home visits happened over one Wintry afternoon where families were very welcoming of us. We explained the project and gave a quick synopsis of the chosen books in their box and the props. I then read a short extract of various books – ‘The Day the Crayons Came Home’ was particularly popular and an extract from ‘One’ by Sarah Crossan. It was great to see the spark of interest in older children’s eyes and pure mischief in the younger siblings, as I read. We had just left the final family when we realised we hadn’t taken a photo, so we returned, less than 2 minutes later to see the children had flung themselves down on the floor and were strewn across sofas with books in their hands!

Book Brunch

After a month, we presented a Valentine’s Day brunch for the families, tying in with the theme of unlocking a love of reading. All families attended and although we had anticipated reticence in giving feedback about the project, it was the complete opposite! After chat and brunch, Aideen gave a recap of the project and opened it to the participants for commentary.

They were unstoppable, chatting about various books and storylines with each other and ourselves – the short reads were the most popular for parents, the students told us that some mums even read while cooking, they were so engrossed! Younger siblings loved the crafts and activities arising from picture books. This became a family activity too – making a dragon (Celtic folktales) and reading to younger siblings.

The box was a great reminder to read – having everything in one place. Teenagers began turning off their phones to read, there was less t.v, because ‘books are in your face’, there was extended use of the books by outside family members, they felt the books were well chosen, parents spoke of going to check a child in bed and seeing her reading – shocking!! The students spoke of the peace and quiet in the house, phones off, a complete rarity.

Aisling Murray, Senior Librarian at Ballymun Library also attended and spoke with the families to encourage visits to the local library. She gave a short presentation on events and resources the parents had not been aware of. They all signed up for membership.

The book brunch was a rewarding experience for the participants and for us. Families who had never met before really connected, over a shared newly found interest in reading and seeing the pleasure of reading within the family.

Since that initial grouping of families, we have continued the BoB project with the support of a new HSCL Barbara McCaul and the Principal, Sinead Dunne. Each year, new families are chosen based on various social and literacy factors. It is always warmly welcomed by the families and has been a real joy to meet so many of them and form a relationship with the library.

During the periods of remote learning in this Covid crisis, we continued our outreach, packing bags of books for local BoB families, along with flyers summarising free online reading resources and quick guides as to joining or accessing same. The HSCL then followed up with phone calls to check in on progress. We found that families unilaterally preferred to have ‘real’ books to digital. This trend was mirrored in my general student population during remote learning as they also requested books to be posted or delivered to them. It was a different experience, in that we could not enter the homes to read/model read alouds, and chat about books and the benefits of reading. We had some garden visits between the two level 5 periods, which at least allowed the families to meet us and laid the groundwork for follow ups, book requests and communication over the phone with the HSCL. Our last (very heavy) deliveries were to the families of four first years, the week before Christmas. It was fantastic to pop in some classic holiday reads and picture books with the selections!

In the last year, NTRIS, a group who support Traveller and Roma progression, have become involved with the project through the HCSL and are aiming to fund the addition of literacy and numeracy games in the Box of Books. They are supportive of our aims and targeted outreach.

In the wake of Covid, the multi strand approach of the BoB project will resume, to see parents welcomed back to the library and a resumption of home visits later this year. The third strand will involve a visit to the local Ballymun library or whichever library is local to each family. This is to encourage the families to feel part of a reading community, to join the library and to promote the free services, activities, workshops and materials available to all. I will liaise with the local library to ensure a short tour and friendly welcome to the families and to make joining as painless as possible.

The final strand will focus on reading in the community with a social activity – a visit to Hodges Figgis or Chapters in town, with each family given a gift card or budget to purchase books for the whole family. We will finish the trip with coffee and cake somewhere too, to end the project with a celebration!

During the last year I had a (non BoB) student tell me that she had been reading all weekend (the ‘Boy’ book series, E. Lockhart) and her mother asked ‘what are you reading all the time for, head stuck in a book, get outside will you?’ The need to promote reading to parents and guardians, to renew their interest or hook them, is really urgent and constant if students are to spend time reading for pleasure outside school. There are so many barriers to progression in the community and if this one could be lifted, it would be a real start.

The programme aligns with the school DEIS policy of Partnership with Parents and Partnership with Others, as well as key JC skills of staying well and being literate, by supporting and developing a home environment conducive to reading for pleasure.

Sarah Purcell, JCSP Librarian, Margaret Aylward C.C.

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