Why do adults start book clubs (and no, we're not talking about wine)? Time to be with friends, to socialize and to talk about a common experience, i.e., the book that everyone was (*ahem*) supposed to read. Book clubs for kids aren't so different. Kids want to spend time together too. However, not all kids are likely to put sitting around discussing literature at the top of their "fun things to do" list. Here are some suggestions for starting a kids' book club for any age group.
Kids love to graze, and lots of different handheld foods will keep them anchored long enough to get them started with the book. Ignore the "no talking with your mouth full" rule, and you might just snag them.
Pro tip: Try to keep snacks low-mess to minimize the likely destruction of books (especially if they're borrowed).
Try to choose a time and place that will be manageable for as many as possible. If three kids have ballet or tutoring on Monday and Wednesday, take pity on them (and their parents) and aim for Tuesday or Thursday instead. Similarly, if you’re organizing the group but your house is far removed from everyone else’s or it’s just not big enough to hold everyone and another parent offers to help by hosting, accept the offer.
Pro tip: Never schedule for Sunday evening. Ever. Everyone is stressed about the upcoming week and will be thinking about homework that is undone or lunches that are unpacked. Just don’t do it to yourself. Which leads us to…
Older kids might not initially appreciate the idea of this, but give it a try anyway. Sometimes books provide a much-appreciated neutral ground for communicating. For younger kids, it’s a golden opportunity for some high-grade quality parent interaction (remember, everyone puts away their devices!) and a chance to build a shared love of reading.
Pro tip: Having other adults on hand will also help you with crowd-control and keeping the group running smoothly. If two kids decide they’re mad at each other and the gathering is threatening to go off the rails, it’s great to have another grown-up on hand to intervene.
What do they have in common? What do all (or most) of them enjoy? If they know each other from soccer, find a soccer-related book for your first pick. If they all love Star Wars, choose a similarly written book or one of the many books specifically about that world. You can also do a quick poll of what they’ve read previously and enjoyed — so, if everyone enjoyed Wonder, then you could suggest Auggie & Me, then base your first pick on that.
Pro tip: Consider diverse reading levels — go for a lower level than a higher one for your first book. More advanced readers will be willing to read an easier book and come back for more, but less accomplished readers who get frustrated with a harder book will be unlikely to want to try again.
For younger kids in particular, an extended period of sitting around talking is likely to lead to restlessness (and for all ages, the expectation of time without tech may be an unaccustomed challenge). Build in at least one break (see the first suggestion) and at least one activity that might relate to the book. A Star Wars book could include a lightsaber battle; a book like Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, which talks about the love of running and drawing shared by the two main characters, could have a relay race (for a group that really needs physical activity) or a drawing time (for one that has fewer wiggles to get out).
Pro tip: For younger kids, such as those still reading picture books, find a common theme with two or three books and then build an activity from those.
This is probably the most critical element of all. You might have the most Martha Stewart kids book club ever, but if the participants don’t relax and have fun, it’s all for naught. Use plastic or melamine plates and cups; don’t serve anything that’s going to leave a horrible stain; accept that not all the books you choose will be hits. Sometimes, it’s more interesting to talk about why you didn’t like a book or what you think could have been changed to make it more enjoyable. Kids relish the chance to be experts, and when they feel that their opinions matter, it’s far likelier that they’ll explore and develop new ones.
Pro tip: Let them say what they think, even if (or especially if) you disagree. It might make you see the book in a whole new light!
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