Prime Time Family Reading: discovering ideas together

Posted on August 16, 2016 at 6:00 am


By Gwendolyn Haley

Something magical happens when families read books together and then talk about the big ideas they encounter. Reading is always fun, but talking about books and ideas helps us learn about the world and one another in a whole new way. Prime Time Family Reading from Humanities Washington taps into that magic while providing developing readers a powerful boost in their comprehension skills.

Spokane County Library District has been fortunate to work with Humanities Washington to host Prime Time Sessions in partnership with elementary schools in Central Valley, Mead, Riverside, Cheney, and East Valley School Districts. These programs are fully funded by Humanities Washington. We are passionate about this program, but it’s one that tends to fly below the radar.


What is Prime Time Family Reading?

It’s a 6-week program that starts with dinner, followed by time of reading aloud and a discussion led by a local scholar. We work with local elementary schools to recruit up to 25 families with children, ages 6–10. Every week, families take home three books with the same theme, to read together. The themes range from fairness to dreams, to courage and cleverness. At the end of the 6-week session, children receive a certificate and several books to keep, and their families gain a whole new perspective on what reading together can do for the whole family.

A parent shared that his daughter had jumped forward a couple of reading levels over the 6 weeks, prompting the teacher to ask “What have you been doing at home?”


After another session ended, a first-grade teacher told us, “This program did everything we hoped it would for the kids who participated.”

During a recent Prime Time Family Reading session in Otis Orchards Library, the elementary school librarian reported that one child in the program stopped by the library every morning before school to tell her how much he loved “book club” and couldn’t wait to come back the following week.

One of our favorite discussions during Prime Time focuses on the theme of “Dreams.” The kids talk about what they want to do when they grow up. The parents talk about the dreams they had as children and the dreams they have for their children. It’s a special moment when kids hear their parents talk about their childhood dreams of becoming astronauts, police officers, singers, dancers, or athletes. They begin to see that mom and dad are whole people with their own ideas and dreams—not solely parents.

By the same token, parents are amazed at some of the insights their children share about the book, as they think about what it means to be courageous, greedy, or fair. Many parents expressed their surprise at how articulate their children were and how deeply their kids were thinking about these topics. Most families that have participated indicate that Prime Time Family Reading has transformed the way they read and discuss books with their children and also how often they use the library.


Prime Time is for everyone

Even families that haven’t participated in a Prime Time Family Reading program can start having thoughtful discussions about picture books right now. The key to these discussions is asking open-ended questions about the ideas and feelings presented in the story rather than focusing on the narrative: Why do characters make certain decisions? What would you do in that situation? In what ways does this story remind you of your own life, or another story? Ask one another questions, so that everyone gets a chance to share.

Here’s the list of books by theme that we read in Prime Time to get you started:

Fairness: “Do the Right Thing”

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, by Jon Scieszka
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, by Verna Aardema
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst

Greed: “What’s in It for Me?”

The Talking Eggs, by Robert D. San Souci
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, by John Steptoe
Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock, by Eric A. Kimmel

Courage: “No Guts, No Glory”

Lon Po Po, by Ed Young
Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
Abiyoyo, by Pete Seeger

Dreams: “Dare to Dream”

Fanny’s Dream, by Caralyn Buehner
Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman
Wagon Wheels, by Barbara Brenner

Cleverness: “Find a Way”

Flossie and the Fox, by Patricia C. McKissack
The Monkey and the Crocodile, by Paul Galdone
Doctor De Soto, by William Steig

Gwendolyn Haley

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