Many children associate reading with academics—and work—more than fun. But reading for pleasure can turn into a lifelong habit that builds vocabulary and critical thinking skills along the way. Parent groups can play a key role in getting kids excited about reading because they can support programs outside of their schools’ academic plans or budgets. Here are 12 ideas for activities that will get kids buzzing about books.
Bring parents and kids together for an evening of reading-related fun. A Winter’s Tale, Mystery Night, Under the Stars, and Treasure Hunt Night are just a few of many possible themes. Invite families to cozy up in their pajamas with hot chocolate or popcorn while teachers read winter-theme books aloud at different stations. Transform your school cafeteria, gym, or library into a “campground” and ask families to bring sleeping bags. Or read mystery books and solve a special mystery by decoding secret messages at a series of stations using invisible ink, words cut out of newspapers, and backward messages that require mirrors. For an event with a treasure hunt theme, focus the read-aloud on a favorite book and then have students hunt for hidden clues that lead them to book-related treasure.
Hold a springtime reading event outside when the days are warmer, and ask parents to loan tents for stations with different book themes. Consider spotlighting authors who are on summer reading lists to promote reading during summer months. Be sure to download PTO Today’s free Family Reading Night planning kit for additional themes, step-by-step guidelines, a flyer, snack ideas, and more for your event.
Musical books is musical chairs with a book as a prize. Ask parents to donate gently used books or enlist businesses to help with donations, and crank the music for a fun game (or 20!) where every child wins. (Enlist a sharp-eyed emcee who can help make sure of it.) Have volunteers donate snacks and beverages, and make the event free so it’s accessible to all families.
There are a few ways to hold a book bingo event. One is to hold a typical bingo night with donated books as prizes. Another is to provide kids with a bingo card with reading challenges—for example, “Read to a stuffed animal or a real one” or “Tell a joke you read in a joke book.” Offer a small prize or no-cost incentive (lunch with the principal) for participants who meet enough reading goals on the card. You can find examples of book bingo cards on Pinterest, or download our bingo template to fill in with your own reading challenges.
Book Swap or Drive
To promote reading for fun during spare time, organize a book swap just before winter break or before school lets out for summer. Have kids bring in gently used books to swap for others. As an alternative, you can support literacy by organizing a book drive for another school or for children you know are short on books.
Inviting a children’s book author can be the event of the year to get kids excited about reading. To narrow your search, first figure out what you want out of a visit. For example, will you include a writing workshop in a small-group setting, or would you rather stick to an all-school assembly? Consider asking teachers for input on new authors kids are excited about, and find out whether neighboring schools would like to team up to cut costs.
Don’t forget to check with your local bookstore in case it’s already hosting a children’s author, another good way to cut down on author travel fees. Or perhaps you have a children’s author in your own area. Author schedules book up quickly, so you’ll want to get to work as early as possible. A few good places to search for author contact information include an author’s personal website, a publisher’s website, and the websites of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Children’s Book Council.
School Reading Challenge
One PTO challenged students to read for 1 million minutes collectively, a yearlong project that students were proud of when they reached their goal. To keep kids enthused, be prepared to get creative with evening reading events, school “read-ins,” and special guest readers throughout the year. It’s also helpful to enlist volunteers to read with kids at school so they can earn their minutes. Provide an irresistible reward as an end-of-challenge incentive: Create a Million Minute Mystery Box to sit in a visible place where students see it every day, or hold a celebratory assembly with a goofy event such as the principal getting dunked in a tank or dyeing her hair pink. If a yearlong event feels daunting, try a scaled-down challenge during fall or spring.
Schools do raise money through book fairs, but most event coordinators and booksellers agree that the main goal is improving literacy skills, not fundraising. For a successful fair, call for lots of volunteers and organize a new theme each year.
Hold a readathon as an independent fundraiser or coordinate it with the book fair to get kids fired up about reading and raising money for their school at the same time. Promote the readathon schoolwide, make sure the reading packets for tracking minutes and pledges are well-organized for families, and schedule school read-ins to build in time for all students to earn those pledges.
Discussing books with other interested readers takes reading to a deeper level. The key is to define the purpose of the book club and the ages it accommodates. Will kids all read the same book? Will they break into age groups and read together in smaller groups? Will it be held during school hours or after? Allowing students to determine what they want to read gives them ownership of the process. Determining your goals first will help you create a successful club from the outset.
Talk to the principal about subscribing to reading software to help teachers. Reading software provides one-on-one lessons to support individual reading levels and progress. For example, Reading Eggs is geared for kids ages 3 to 13 and may be especially beneficial for struggling or reluctant readers. Accelerated Reader enables students to choose their own books with guidance from a teacher or a librarian and then take a computerized quiz after completion. The quizzes help teachers guide kids toward appropriate reading levels.
Read Across America Event
Read Across America Day, held each year on March 2, is a reading awareness and motivation program created by the National Education Association to celebrate reading. The NEA’s Read Across America website offers all kinds of book suggestions and tips.
Little Free Library
Set up a free Little Free Library outside the school and invite students to take a book and leave a book. In our PTO and PTA Leaders Facebook group, leaders whose schools have set up a Little Free Library say it’s important to think about it differently than a regular library. The goals are to encourage reading and to provide interesting reading material to students. Expect that students will forget to return books or donate a book for others to enjoy. When supplies run low, you may be able to restock the library by asking families to donate books their children have outgrown, or by asking teachers to give old books from their classroom libraries.