Setting Up Your Home Reading Program

 Although there is a bit of a front load in preparing, setting up a smooth running home reading program will save your sanity throughout the year as students will have a well established routine.

Set up your home reading bags.
Ensure each bag has a student name on it. I like to use a label that has an identical label that I can put on my bin. This helps students who do not know how to read but can match! If you don't have much time a permanent marker works fine!

Figure out what style of bag you would like to store your books in.
I always have used a Ziplock type bag so that I can easily see inside to see if the book is there or if it is missing and I love that it is waterproof against spills that may occur inside a backpack (food, drinks or "other" accidents). I also like the fact that it is clear so I can easily see communication from parents. I try to reinforce the bag. I've tried packing tape in the past but this year I'm experimenting with Duct tape. I have found that packing tape eventually rips at some point in the year with students who do not have good fine motor control.

Prepare some sort of communication between home and school and frequency of reading.
The type of forms filled in can vary depending upon the grade taught. Especially as there are large variations in abilities.

Some teachers have a monthly checklist for parents to fill out.
Others like to have parents sign in for each 10-20 minutes that their students read.
I personally prefer a booklet format.

I have used a booklet for the past 9 years. Parents fill out each book read and then they circle the difficulty of the book. They leave it open and I can easily check feedback from parents. I also like to reward reading efforts with a small sticker for every 10 books read, so this is easily seen by whomever is exchanging the books.

If you would like to see the communication booklet that I use now, click here!

Collection & distribution of bags to students.
Ensure you have a basket for students to place their home reading bags. No matter what plan I have, I always call a few children at a time. Normally my SK's and/or high reading JK's like to help hand out the book bags to the other children and they come automatically and this provides an authentic opportunity for reading in the classroom.

How do you want to organize exchanging books?
Make sure you have a sign out system. I have used many different styles over the years. Here are three suggestions with varying degrees of responsibility depending upon the needs/dynamics in your classroom.

1. Student Independence
Have students independently take out their books, put the cards back into the book envelope, and return it to the home reading cart. This is best with older grade students or students who are very responsible. It can work in a kindergarten classroom with adult supervision.

2. Independence with Some Control
Students retrieve their sign out cards from a sign out chart and I put them inside the books myself to ensure that the books are taken care of and the correct card is placed inside each booklet. I hand each student their empty home reading bag and then they immediately go and pick a different book and place the card into their name on the sign out chart.

I collect and sort all the books as the whole class exchanges and then I return them back into the collection myself to ensure the cart does not get mixed up and books are not ruined trying to be stuffed back into the collection.

3. Retain Total Control 
I have found this only works with smaller class sizes. Have the sign out in a binder where children come to you when called after you have removed the books and placed the appropriate card inside the book. I usually call one student at a time and if done this way it is quite quick but not quick enough for a large class. Students are then given their bag to get their new book to sign out and they come back to you to give you their new card to place inside the binder and you ensure that the sign out card match the book they are taking out. The teacher returns books to the home reading cart to ensure that they are not damaged and are returned to the correct spot when they are all done.

The only reason we have ever had to resort to this type of control is due to ensuring that the teacher has "seen" all books returned and we have parents who say that they have returned their child's book. Because I have had complete control over the returns, I can say with full confidence that there is a missing book at home still or that it hasn't been returned to the collection. We have found missing books in daycare, in siblings classrooms and at home etc. This just aids with conflicts and ensures that other children have not taken out a different child's card and put it in the wrong book.

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