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Book Clubs

Strengthen Family–Teacher Partnerships and Build Community



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“Mrs. Burton!” cried Mary, mother of 5-year-old Alex, as she approached me in the Child Development Center. I was getting ready to leave for the day, but she had big questions: “When will Alex read fluently?,” “What can I do to captivate his interest in learning?,” and “Why doesn’t he listen to me when I ask him to do something?” “Wow,” I thought. “Each of these topics could take a semester to discuss.” As I listened to the intensity and the longing in Mary’s voice, I realized that she needed some reassurance that she was a good parent and that her son was going to be just fine. I could tell her not to worry, but I was just one voice. Instead, I invited her to attend our parent–teacher book club meeting next week, even if she hadn’t read the book. Mary attended the meeting. Everyone talked freely about their concerns as parents, and they referred to passages in the selected book that really spoke to them. As the meeting continued, the group validated Mary’s feelings and opinions, and she relaxed and enjoyed the discussion. I smiled, knowing she would be back. A study guide for this article is available online at 62

he importance of strong family–teacher partnerships and the power of communities to positively influence child growth and development are values that unite us all in early childhood education. One strategy early childhood programs can adopt that strengthens family–teacher relationships and helps develop a community of learners in which all will flourish is a parent–teacher book club. Strong partnerships between families and teachers are essential for healthy development of young children, and they also benefit parents and teachers. When these partnerships are strong, young children demonstrate enhanced academic achievement, positive attitudes about school, and good work habits (Epstein & Sanders 2006). Partnerships provide support for family members, contributing to their self-esteem, and enabling them to develop their identities (Swick 1993). Teachers gain confidence in their ability to meet the needs of children and work effectively with others. To create and maintain partnerships in which young children thrive, children must be part of real communities where adults genuinely care about them and about one another (Baker & Manfredi/Petitt 2004; Wentworth 2006). Establishing such partnerships, however, can be n

Young Children

November 2013

© Ellen B. Senisi

Lorraine DeJong and Meredith W. Burton

Selected Readings for a Parent–Teacher Book Club Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever, by Mem Fox. A researchbased (but reader-friendly) book on the importance of reading aloud to children, featuring many personal examples from the author.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting, by John Gottman. This book teaches about emotion coaching—helping children understand and handle their emotions.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From NatureDeficit Disorder, by Richard Louv. A passionate attempt to combat the sedentary lifestyle of some of today’s children, motivating parents and educators to engage children with nature and the outdoors.

Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences, by Leonard Sax. The author gives examples of how boys and girls develop differently, and how to better accommodate the different needs of boys and girls in relation to education and parenting.

In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences, by Thomas Armstrong. Children may exhibit intelligence preferences that require nurturing throughout their educational experience. Ideas for home and school are included.

Making Friends: A Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Child’s Friendships, by Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer. The author discusses stages of childhood friendships, addressing bullying, difficult friendships, making friends, and losing friends.

Reclaiming Childhood: Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement-Oriented Society, by William Crain. The author discusses his concerns about pushing children to achieve and perform at early ages. He stresses the importance of play and a child-centered approach to education and parenting.

Unconditional Parenting: Moving From Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason, by Alfie Kohn. This book addresses how to replace praise with the unconditional support that young children need to grow into healthy, caring, and responsible adults.

A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play, by Vivian Gussin Paley. This book provides examples of dramatic play, storytelling, and role playing in early childhood classrooms around the world and demonstrates their importance to child development. Consuming Kids: Protecting Our Children From the Onslaught of Marketing and Advertising, by Susan Linn. This book examines the media’s influence on children through advertising and product placement.

ing. Common obstacles include perceptions of turf, distrust, differences in expertise, lack of time, and differing cultural expectations about the roles of teachers and families (Souto-Manning 2010). To establish strong relationships, positive exchanges between teachers and families should be ongoing. An ongoing parent–teacher book club can help overcome some of the obstacles to strong parent–teacher relationships. Book clubs offer a path for establishing genuine and trusting partnerships between those who care for young children and for developing a nurturing community where all can grow (Wentworth 2006).

About the Authors

Lorraine DeJong, PhD, is an associate professor of education and the coordinator of early childhood education at Furman University, in Greenville, South Carolina. Lorraine has more than 20 years of experience developing programs and initiatives for families in early childhood classroom settings. November 2013

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The Surprising Power of Family Meals: How Eating Together Makes Us Smarter, Stronger, and Happier, by Miriam Weinstein. This book looks at the ritual of family mealtime. Mealtime rituals from a variety of faiths and family structures provide ideas for families to strengthen their own mealtime traditions. Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, by Ellen Galinsky. The author introduces seven life skills that will help children learn how to think. Video clips and additional information available at www. (This book works best when divided into at least two book club sessions.)

The motivation to begin In 2007 everything was going well at the Child Development Center. Twenty-six children, ages 3–6, were happy and learning, teachers were engaged, and parents were involved. But Meredith, the director, noticed that she spent a great deal of time fielding questions from families on issues related to parenting and their child’s development. She decided to initiate a parent–teacher book club that fall to help families find answers to their questions and to involve them in forming a community of learners with teachers.

Meredith W. Burton, MA, is the director of the Furman University Child Development Center (CDC) and the president-elect of the South Carolina AEYC. Meredith developed the parent–teacher book club at Furman University CDC as a family-engagement tool and a method of professional development for herself and the staff.


Making it happen

Tips for Enhancing Book Club Success n  Share all aspects of the planning (including book selec-

tion, site location, refreshments) among participants; when teachers do all the planning, families feel less empowered

n  Obtain copies of the selected book several weeks

before the meeting and make them available for pickup at the center; keep in mind that some parents might want to read the book even if they are unable to attend the meeting

n  Send at least two reminders (include location of meet-

ing with directions if held away from school) prior to meetings to help parents plan their reading

n  Serve light food and beverages to provide a relaxed


n  Hold meetings at a time and place convenient to most

families and teachers

n  Sit in a circle and encourage casual or informal dress

for everyone’s comfort

n  Conduct short yearly evaluations that encourage partic-

ipants to provide feedback on each book’s usefulness to them in their role as a parent or teacher

n  Establish and share ground rules for risk taking, so that

no participant is concerned that she will be attacked for her interpretation or opinions


events, and partnering with local public and university libraries, community organizations, and businesses. The book club’s format is modeled on literature circles (Daniels & Steineke 2004), which many teachers already use with children. After reading a book, parents and teachers discuss their thoughts, both positive and negative, in the group. Meredith serves as a facilitator, beginning the meeting with focused questions about the reading. She shares references for related readings and brings handouts and/or audiovisual materials to supplement or reinforce the book’s message. Sometimes we present materials that relate the book to the center’s philosophy or approaches used in the classroom. For example, the center firmly supports the use of play in the classroom. Vivian Gussin Paley’s A Child’s Work led to a discussion of the importance of children’s fantasy play both at home and at school. Once participants receive the questions and resources, they steer the conversation where they want the discussion to go (Powers 2006). After the initial discussion, Meredith encourages participants to relate the content from the reading to their own experiences. Through the dialogue, each participant creates personal meaning and a deeper understanding of the book’s content. Current research suggests that adults learn most effectively through active engagement that includes open discussion and immediate problem solving in settings where they are able to apply new learning to their own experiences and circumstances (Beach & Yussen 2011). For example, after reading Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn, one mother mentioned to Meredith that she was more aware of how many times each day she tells her child no. She is now consciously working to change her behavior. Throughout the meeting, Meredith keeps the conversation moving, ensuring that no one dominates the discussion and all viewpoints are respected.

Benefits to stakeholders Now that we are several years into the book club meetings, we see the abundant benefits to all parties. Participants n

Young Children

November 2013

© Ellen B. Senisi

The book club meets twice each semester, and the number of participants varies from 8 to 20. Meetings are intentionally inclusive, in order to encourage different points of view. Invited participants include current and former program families, four teachers, the program director (Meredith), and a professor of early childhood education (Lorraine). Inviting parents of alumni children lets current families know that even after their children move on to primary school, they still belong to the community. Including a college professor provides an additional resource for the group. Meetings are usually held at the Child Development Center, but sometimes the group meets at a family’s home. Meredith selects four books each year based on the program goals and the children’s and parents’ needs and interests. (See “Selected Readings for a Parent–Teacher Book Club,” p. 63, for book suggestions.) We know that when adults are interested in a topic, they are more likely to want to learn about it, regardless of their reading ability (Littlejohn 2006). We gather family interest topics informally through ongoing staff conversations with parents at the center and formally through a brief survey at the end of each book club year. Some ways to reduce the cost of books include securing grants, purchasing books in bulk, holding fund-raising

Parents and family members Through the book club, families—who are already the experts on their own children—learn more about child development. The book club provides resources to help families understand why their children act in certain ways, and offers them tools to help them with parenting situations they have never encountered. Book discussions often validate developmentally appropriate practices that families already use, strengthening families’ confidence that they are fostering their children’s development. Finally, parents form friendships, which serve as a springboard for play dates and other social opportunities.

Teachers Teachers benefit greatly from meeting parents as equals to discuss educational and parenting topics in-depth. As book club facilitators and participants, teachers experience professional development as engaged learners, not as passive consumers of workshops and lectures (Littlejohn 2006). The readings and conversations often lead to

stronger commitment to the program and to modifications in classroom teaching practices (Kisch 2009). For example, following the book club’s discussion of A Child’s Work, staff reorganized the dramatic play area of the classroom to encourage more storytelling through play. Also, many personal stories come out in the book club, and teachers use them to better understand the unique needs of each child and family (McDermott 2008).

Center director Selecting books leads Meredith to discover a wide variety of literature on early childhood education and parenting. She stays abreast of current research and writing in the field, and revisits some of the foundational concepts that drive her motivation to teach. Through the meetings, she gets to know the parents on a personal level, making it easier to approach them when there are issues of concern or to ask for their help. The families see that she is invested in them, not just in their children. As a result, there is a close-knit school community that genuinely cares about each person and each situation at the school.

University professor Lorraine’s regular participation has led her to include content on parent–teacher book clubs in her classes. For confidentiality reasons, she cannot share the specifics of

NAEYC is pleased to announce the fall 2013 publication of Voices of Practitioners: Teacher Research in Early Childhood Education. Articles in this issue include “Young Thinkers: Supporting Toddler Theory-Making Through Cooking” and “A Sense of Knowing: Teacher Research With Community College Preservice Teachers,” available at

Courtesy of Jeff Daitsman

agree that the club provides them with opportunities for insight and renewal, which are critical to being an effective parent, teacher, director, or professor. Formal and informal feedback from participants highlights the following benefits to stakeholders.

Voices of Practitioners publishes research by early childhood teachers. This peer-reviewed, online journal includes informative articles, resources, and tools to promote the participation of early childhood teachers in teacher research. Are you a teacher? Do you reflect on or study your teaching? Voices of Practitioners is looking for new authors. Learn how to submit at

November 2013

Young Children n


Children Children benefit from the positive relationships built between families and teachers through the book club. Because children know that their parents and teachers are reading, sharing, and learning together, they come to understand that both sets of adults care deeply about them. In Relationships, the Heart of Quality Care, Baker and Manfredi/Pettit (2004) suggest that young children feel more comfortable when they know that their families and teachers respect one another and have positive relationships, and that teachers are better able to bond with children. Janis Keyser notes, in From Parents to Partners (2006), that young children see themselves as an extension of their parents, and when teachers respect and include parents, their children feel that as well. For example, children whose parents attend the book club often talk at school about how their parents go to school just like they do, and that makes them feel good. Children also benefit from the knowledge found in the books. When families and teachers read the same material, those books and discussions about them lead to positive changes in perspective and action at home and at school. For example, after reading Miriam Weinstein’s The Surprising Power of Family Meals, parents and teachers discussed and


Tips for Supporting Diverse Families


hen designing book clubs, emphasize to family members that they are invited to participate even if they have not read the book (SoutoManning 2010). Also consider sharing and discussing articles, easy-to-read pamphlets (Rockwell, Andre, & Hawley 2010), and video recordings on topics of interest. These options can reduce costs and minimize preparation time for families. Centers can provide transportation and make arrangements for child care so more parents are able to participate. Most important, centers must convey to parents that everyone is important and welcome to learn and grow by becoming part of the book club’s community of learners.

then implemented strategies to enhance meal experiences for the children at home and at school.

Conclusion We support parent–teacher book clubs because we see firsthand the power they have to strengthen parent–teacher relationships and to develop a caring community of learners where everyone benefits, especially young children. Our book club is one crucial way we let the outside world know we support the family model of early childhood education, with its emphasis on close, caring relations between children, teachers, and families (Baker & Manfredi/Petitt 2004). Under this model, children are not the product of a child care program; families are more than consumers of services; and staff members are more than service providers. Rather, this model encourages adults to participate in a human community, which forms gradually over many months and years as caring, comfort, and trust develop over time (2004). We are most gratified when we hear parents say that the early childhood program is a home away from home, where they can learn and grow as a result of a healthy exchange of ideas on issues important to them and their children. Teachers and directors experience greater job satisfaction because when problems arise that need to be discussed with families, they are easier to overcome. Staff feel more valued and comfortable around families, and thus programs tend to thrive (2004). But most importantly, children develop the expectation that they will be valued both by parents and by teachers, and as a result they become positively attached to others. The secure attachment network that forms will be important to them in all their future relationships. Book club participation in schools, neighborhoods, bookstores, and on websites is soaring. It is time for those of us in early childhood to embrace it as a strategy that will benefit parents, teachers, and most importantly, young children. n

Young Children

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© Larry Garf

conversations with undergraduate and graduate preservice teachers, but she is able to share insights about book clubs and overall parent interests, needs, and concerns. Teacher candidates study the books the club reads, and many of the books become resources for their future classroom libraries. With Meredith’s support, Lorraine encourages teacher candidates to join the meetings and to implement parent– teacher book clubs during their practicum and internship field experiences. Lorraine believes that the book club has helped form a stronger relationship between the university’s early childhood teacher education division and the Child Development Center, benefiting both programs.

References Baker, A.C., & L.A. Manfredi/Petitt. 2004. Relationships, the Heart of Quality Care: Creating Community Among Adults in Early Care Settings. Washington, DC: NAEYC. Beach, R., & S. Yussen. 2011. “Practices of Productive Adult Book Clubs.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 55 (2): 121–31. Daniels, H., & N. Steineke. 2004. Mini-Lessons for Literature Circles. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Epstein, J.L., & M.G. Sanders. 2006. “Prospects for Change: Preparing Educators for School, Family, and Community Partnerships.” Peabody Journal of Education 81 (2): 81–120. Keyser, J. 2006. From Parents to Partners: Building a “Family-Centered” Early Childhood Program. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf; Washington, DC: NAEYC. Kisch, M. 2009. “Book Discussion Groups.” School Administrator 66 (6): 18–23.

NAEYC Resources Teachers can turn to NAEYC when selecting book club materials: n  NAEYC For Families website (—

A rich variety of resources to share with families on a range of topics, including school readiness, child development, and choosing child care

n  Teaching Young Children (—

Short, engaging articles covering all aspects of preschool children’s development

n  Young Children (—In-depth ar-

ticles on various topics about children ages birth to 8

Littlejohn, C. 2006. “The Oprah Revolution: Book Clubs in Library Media Centers.” Library Media Connection 25 (3): 28–29. McDermott, D. 2008. Developing Caring Relationships Among Parents, Children, Schools, and Communities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Swick, K.J. 1993. Strengthening Parents and Families During the Early Childhood Years. Champaign, IL: Stipes.

Powers, J. 2006. “Six Fundamentals for Creating Relationships With Families.” Young Children 61 (1): 28.

Wentworth, G. 2006. “Parent Involvement in an International School: Piloting an Early Childhood Reading Group.” Young Children 61 (1): 56–60.

Rockwell, R.E., L.C. Andre, & M.K. Hawley. 2010. Families and Educators as Partners: Issues and Challenges. 2nd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. Souto-Manning, M. 2010. “Family Involvement: Challenges to Consider, Strengths to Build On.” Young Children 65 (2): 82–88.

Copyright © 2013 by the National Association for the Education of Young Children—1313 L Street NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005. See Permissions and Reprints online at

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November 2013

Young Children



Book Clubs Strengthen Family-Teacher Partnerships and Build Community  

by Lorraine Dejong and Meredith W. Burton

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