Getting Your Doorstep Reading Program Started
One of the challenges to setting up a Doorstep Reading program is that the promotion of the program within the community needs to take place simultaneously to recruiting volunteers and preparing them.
The following is a suggested order of events when setting up a Doorstep Reading program, although they largely overlap
- Recruitment and Training of the Program Co-ordinator
- Promotion, Recruitment and Preparation of Volunteers
- Attaining the resources necessary to run the program (books, picnic blankets, book bags etc)
- Promotion of the program within the community (letterbox drops/posters/doorknocking/meeting residents through other agencies working in that area)
- Establishing the program in the community
Rainbow Readers took over 18mths to get to the point where it really flourished. There was a real theme in the interviews conducted with our Rainbow Reader volunteers that they felt that it was important to turn up on reading day and dedicate that time. They also voiced the importance in expecting that building rapport will be harder than initially thought. Here is one interview excerpt:
"A lot of families were a bit weary of us at first. This community is used to so many programs coming onto the estate for a little while, doing their thing, and then the funding runs out and they leave again. Families figure that this program won’t be any different, and so why would they bother to become involved when they anticipate it’s just going to leave." Rainbow Reader volunteer
Once the program is established, and families start embracing the offer of Storytime, it is important not to rest on your laurels with the assumption it will continue to sail along. At this point you may wish to contemplate holding an event to bolster the rapport built between volunteers and families, and to build new relationships with not-yet-involved families.
It is also important to keep an eye on the attrition taking place within your pool of volunteers. Even once you have a seemingly adequate initial pool of volunteers, it pays to continue to plan your recruit for a subsequent Volunteer Preparation Course. This means that not only will you be on your way to having volunteers to replace those who leave, but it’s also an opportunity to add to your pool of volunteers and enable the Rainbow Reader to read longer with each family, and to approach more families they encounter on the estate with the offer of joining in with Rainbow Readers. We found with Rainbow Readers that we had a stable pool of volunteers for a long period and then we lost one to ill health, one to family commitments and one to full time employment. In a pool of 6 volunteers that is a significant loss and meant that there are more Rainbow Reader families wanting Storytime than the remaining pool of volunteers could service. It became especially hard on any week that any of the ‘still-active’ volunteers were not able to get to Hamilton South. Given the community’s experience of projects like ours in the past, it was not long before rumours spread that we had finished up the Rainbow Readers were no longer available for Storytime to families. This was very unfortunate and took a lot of effort to restore the family’s faith in the program.
Transitioning from Individual Reading to Group Reading
When working with high density communities, there is an opportunity to move from individual reading to group reading. The benefits of group reading include:
- being able to meet, interact, and build rapport with families in a different context.
- linking families with other families from their neighbourhood.
- older siblings from other families modelling reading behaviour to the younger children
- more of a sense of ownership by the community of the reading program
- making it easier to plan for an event because the families are able to be consulted as a group about what it is they think would work best (and when)
It does, however, have the potential drawbacks of:
- neighbourhood politics spilling over into Rainbow Reader and possibly stopping some families from attending
- parents declining Storytime because they don’t want to have to get dressed and come out to the common area
- limiting the opportunity for one-on-one conversations between volunteers and parents (volunteers often remark how surprised they are at how much some families confide in them after they have been visiting for a number of weeks)
There are a number of resources we suggest you get together to start your Doorstop Reading program. These include:
Blankets: To lay out on the front doorsteps and lawns of the families houses. The Rainbow Readers liked their very colourful ones, with a nylon water side, meaning they reasonably water repellent but light enough to easily carry.
Book Bags: Shoulder bags, with a wide straps and visible logo (see photo) are great for carrying the ‘mobile library’. These book bags could be made by utilising the assets of a volunteer, or a member of the community.
Books: (for Storytime, and for families to borrow) may be cheaply sourced/or donated from: Local bookshops, Op Shops, Library ‘cast offs’, School Fetes, Children’s book publishers (e.g. New Frontier Publishing, Scholastic, Leading Edge, Harper Collins Australia), Community Members, Volunteers, Staff of the co-ordinating agency
A sturdy plastic tub: with lid is a good option for housing the books from week to week if many of the volunteers are public transport users. Alternatively, volunteers may choose to keep some in their car boot in order to have them ‘at the ready’ each week. This second option saves you two challenges: - finding an appropriate place to store all of the books in one place, and finding someone willing and available EVERY week to turn up on time with the box
- A simple information flyer about the program for the families with both photos and words communicating the information.
- "Sorry we missed you" slips to leave under the doors of families who aren’t there when the volunteers visit. This is important since it builds trust in the program when families see that the volunteers are coming by every week to continue to offer Storytime even if they haven’t been able to cross paths with the family for a number of weeks, or if it was a wet day.
- Library Cards to record books borrowed. This can be very simple and just an A4 page with each child’s name and address on it and three columns listing "Name of Book", "Date Borrowed", "Date Returned".
- Volunteer Attendance Sheet: This allows volunteers to nominate what weeks in the month ahead they anticipate they will be available (or not available) and helps the group know in advance (as well as at a glance on the day) who to expect to be there.
- Name tags for the volunteers so they are easily identifiable.
- Clear maps of the local community.
- Wet weather activities and supplies – pencils, crayons, stencils to colour in, nursery rhymes.