By Sarah Miller, Baby Toddler Book Club
One humid late summer morning, seven moms, each with their toddler, gathered on a big tarp in my backyard. Each child came carrying a copy of the same book, Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? by Dr. Suess. We sat in a big circle and read the book together while our children turned the pages. When we finished the book, we got out a large tub of rice for playing and for making rain-makers. Then we ate a snack that “makes a sound” – Rice Krispies in milk! This began an early childhood book club that I have continued to run every month, for nearly 5 years. Each meeting includes a group reading of a book, a book related activity, and a book related snack.
The children who have participated have observed from an early age that their parents value books, that their peers often enjoy the same books that they do, and that books can be exciting and “brought to life.”
Our parent members have found the company of other like-minded parents who share a love of literature, creative play, and easy healthy snacks for children.
Both parents and children have benefited from socializing with a consistent group of friends every month. We never down-play the importance of socialization, which means the kids always have time to just play without a structured activity while the parents have time to talk, inevitably discuss parenting questions, and just enjoy adult company!
So, how can YOU start and maintain your own early childhood book club?
Here are my tips, which are adapted from our Baby Toddler Book Club Read With Us page.
1) Keep it consistent-Identify the same group of parents and kids each month and ask for a (reasonable) commitment to participate. Consistency is important for planning purposes, predictability for the children, and helps establish close-knit relationships between members.
2) Make it a manageable size– We’ve ranged from about 7 to 12 parent-child pairs at various points in time, but typically have about 8. That said, even 8 toddlers can feel very busy! Be sure to choose a group size that fits your space and comfort level. We’ve had some really nice intimate meetings with just 3 or 4 parents/children too. It doesn’t have to be a big group to be successful.
3) Chose a group of kids close in age-ideally within a year of each other. This helps with planning snacks and activities that are appropriate to the developmental level of the kids. This is especially important for babies or younger toddlers (a 6 month old is eating very different foods than a 20 month old, for example).
4) Identify one person as the coordinator – I coordinate our group so I plan the activities, schedule the meetings, and send out reminders about what supplies we need for each meeting. I love doing it—so I don’t mind a bit, HOWEVER, don’t let it be overwhelming! If hosting everything doesn’t sound appealing to you, as the coordinator, ask your parent members to take turns hosting and planning a meeting!
5) Pick a consistent day/time to meet each month, but be somewhat flexible– For example, you might identify that you’ll meet the first Tuesday of every month at 10 a.m. and try to stick to that plan, BUT plan that there will be reasons you may need to change the day (e.g., winter weather may not cooperate, the host’s child gets sick, etc.)
6) Know where you can meet each month in advance– My favorite place to host meetings is in my home (I like the comfort of meeting in a home and not having to transport supplies), but we’ve handled hosting many other ways at points in time. Here are places we’ve tried or you could try if hosting in your home isn’t a possibility (be sure reasonably messy activities and/or food are allowed in your space):
- local church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious building with space the public can use/rent for free or at a low cost
- library meeting room
- outside in a backyard or at a park when the weather is comfortable
- rotate hosts (each member hosts one meeting at their home)
Wherever you choose, set up the plan for as many meetings as possible in advance so you aren’t going back and forth about who should/where to host each month.
7) Use our Book List or pick your books ahead of time– Planning books in advance means that there is no rush to find “any book that will do” for the meeting. Also, with advance notice, parents can order the books together to save on shipping, look for used copies, place holds on books at the library, or even work with a library to request multiple copies of the book through interlibrary loan.
8) Choose easy activities and healthy snacks (or use ours!)- I think what makes our group unique is that we find easy activities to coordinate with books and simple healthy food. You are more than welcome to learn from our years of experience! Our Book List page has loads of book club meeting plans organized by year so you have a full curriculum ready for you if you choose! We intentionally select books that represent new publications as well as older classics, cover diverse topics, are age appropriate, and are generally enjoyed by our children.
9) Be prepared for a little (or a lot) of mess –There’s no denying that things can get pretty messy during Baby Toddler Book Club! That’s just part of the process, but here are a few ways we “quarantine” the mess a bit:
*Use a big painters tarp (can purchase on Amazon.com) to protect floors and carpet or as a large outdoor blanket. Throw it in the wash for easy clean-up.
*Put away toys with many small pieces before book club.
* Before reading, cover up the toy shelves with a sheet to help the kids stay focused on the book and activity. Take off the sheets when the activity is done so the kids can play while adults socialize.
* If you meet at a public location, be sure to also have cleaning supplies, paper towels, disinfectant wipes, and wet wipes.
Once you accept the mess, you can relax and enjoy the process (plus, our members always help clean up)!
10) Have fun! Enjoy the time playing with your child and connecting with other parents! Don’t stress if it doesn’t go exactly as you planned or if every child isn’t engaged at every moment (they won’t be—they are babies, toddlers, and young children)!
Baby Toddler Book Club has been an important part of my parenting experience during early childhood. It has created meaningful connections and friendships for both parents and children and allowed us to discover and immerse ourselves in favorite books.
We feel so strongly about the power of book club that we also donate a replication of our Baby Toddler book, activity, and snack every month to a low-income family in our community through an early childhood outreach program. We call this program, Book Club Pals.
I love to help parents start their own Book Clubs and would love to start a network of book clubs across the country (or world)! Please Contact Us anytime for support, like us on Facebook, and Share With Us what your book club is doing!
We can’t wait to hear from you!
Do you have a parent/early childhood book club?
What is your favorite book that you would like to see us pair with an activity and snack for a meeting?
We hope you’ll start your own group full of reading, playing, eating, and giving!
-Baby Toddler Book Club-