Thinking of doing Reading Force?

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We’re very pleased to welcome guest blogger Daniela Makin, who generously shares her family’s experience of doing Reading Force below….

Our Reading Force… by the Makins

Hello! We are the Makins, a book-loving and creative family of one grown-up, one pretend grown-up and two small children, Raphael (age 4) and Corin (age 3). My husband, Seth, is an army doctor working in Suffolk, where we have lived since last September. I am a qualified secondary teacher, currently on sabbatical to enjoy my children’s last year at home before they go to school.

Reading is very important to us. We have read to the children since birth; we have bookcases around the house; our children regularly fall asleep with books balanced on their pillows; and, on moving to our new house, I set up a reading corner, complete with homemade bunting, posters begged from local bookshops and squashy cushions. We support our local libraries, and I am trying to set up a book club on camp.

Seth went to Belize on exercise in January, this was the first time he was deployed since Corin’s birth. Before leaving, he filmed himself reading our children’s favourite books so the videos could be played at bedtime. Unfortunately, it was not enough to alleviate Daddy’s absence. However, following a discussion over coffee with a friend, I was introduced to Reading Force. Our first scrapbook and book, Mr Magnolia by Quentin Blake, arrived shortly thereafter, and I hesitantly embarked on reading the story to our two children: I write “hesitantly” because I doubted the children would be able to sustain their concentration to compile an entire scrapbook. At the time, my youngest was barely two and a half.

However, it was with much joy that I was proved wrong! The children adored exploring the story, and drawing their versions of Mr Magnolia in the scrapbook. I wrote their responses verbatim, and colour-coded them so that we could tell at a glance whose opinions were whose. We revisited the book many times and re-examined the illustrations. I photographed their activities, and kept the doodles and notes I had made of the children’s ideas. Suddenly, I was in my element: as a parent or carer, you are your child’s first teacher. Reading Force provides the perfect teaching and learning experience for you and your child without the need for teaching experience.

But what about Daddy? Where was Seth in this hive of scrapbook activity? He was in Belize but he embraced the Reading Force ethos: we pre-arranged a Skype call, and we read our story to him. Most importantly for the children, the book and scrapbook provided a fun and literary focus for discussion with Daddy. This is important because it is a sad fact that young forces children struggle to communicate positively with a deployed parent.

Compiling a scrapbook through a shared story provides a neutral and accessible focus of engagement where everyone feels involved and valued, and can contribute at an appropriate and convenient level: it maintains and strengthens the parental bond over distance. After that first Skype storytelling session, Seth messaged me over WhatsApp, saying that it had ‘been one of the highlights of [his] day’ – A printscreen copy of this went into the scrapbook, too.

Would I recommend Reading Force? Absolutely! I cannot thank this charity enough for what they have given my family. Reading Force provides a unique and inspirational experience that we all continue to enjoy even with my husband at home: we now make our scrapbooks with friends and family members scattered around the country.

As a forces family, we may move every so many years but Reading Force gives us a focus for sustained and continued communication. My mother, who lives in Devon, treasures our scrapbook activities because they give her the opportunity to feel close to her grandchildren when she visits and over Skype: the three of them thoroughly enjoyed debating the ending of Goldilocks. With five scrapbooks completed in four months, our certificates proudly on display in our Reading Corner, we cannot wait to do more!