When I started our first book club for kids, I had no idea that it would expand to include more than 50 kids from all over our community. We’ve traveled to far off lands and galaxies, built tiny houses, gone on scavenger hunts for gnomes, dusted for fingerprints, and more. The kids have met new people and been exposed to new genres of literature. It really has become a highlight of our month.
Have you ever planned a "party school?"
We took the idea of a book club and morphed it into a party to create a “party school.” Party school isn't your state university. It's an atmosphere of fun combined with educational experiences. It is a magic recipe for adding joy back into your homeschool, and we apply it to several aspects of our studies.
When we added party schools in the form of book clubs to our homeschool, it inspired the kids to step outside of their normal educational box. They began to see the world with investigative eyes. And, most importantly, they became excited to learn.
So, why should you start a book club?
Starting a book club will form friendships.
When I started our first book club, it was mainly for my preteen daughter to develop friendships with other girls her age. She was coming to an age where she needed friends beyond her family.
I designed a book club strictly for preteen girls. I really wasn’t thinking much beyond this one book club. My primary initiative was to find a way for her to hang out with her friends and meet new ones.
What surprised me was how much these girls bonded and became dear friends. They are very different girls with very different interests, but they come together each month over a book.
A few months later, I created a new book club for my youngest. She saw how much her sister was enjoying spending each month with her friends and she wanted a book club of her own.
Since she was younger, we invited elementary-age girls and boys to join us. Because it is co-ed, the group has a different feel, but the kids have formed fast friendships and enjoy getting together each month.
Starting a book club will broaden your child’s literature choices.
Book clubs are an excellent way to introduce your child to the joys of literature. By choosing literature from different genres, your student’s vocabulary and tastes will broaden.
Our book club meets once a month. During the month, the students read the assigned book. The mom who is hosting that month gets to decide what book we will be reading. The hosting mom can also make choices on snacks, discussions, and activities that appeal to her child’s interests. Because the book club is made up of children from different families with different interests, the books are varied.
We have read classics like A Wrinkle in Time, poetry books like Love That Dog and new works like Wonder. Nature books like Where the Red Fern Grows led us into the woods, while The Green Ember and Number the Stars taught the kids about being brave even when you don’t feel very brave.
Some books we have loved, and some have not been hits in our house. An interesting aspect of book discussion is that it’s okay not to like a book or a character. Whether we loved the book or hated it, the children were exposed to different forms of literature and began to develop their own opinions of the different genres.
Starting a book club is fun!
The kids’ favorite part of book club is the “Party School” atmosphere. Since each mom chooses her own activities for book club, they are as varied as the moms and their talents.
Our goal is to keep book club fun. That means we add a little magic dust. Magic dust can come in the form of a tea party, like our Secret Garden Book Club. Or it can be a bit more disgusting, like the time we dissected owl pellets at our Poppy Book Club. Several times we’ve pulled out the pots and pans and cooked, like at our Tale of Despereaux Book Club. The goal is to learn by experience. Step into the book and go on an adventure.
The secret reason to start a book club…
I’m going to tell you a little secret. Moms LOVE book club. When I started the book clubs, I thought I would be hosting most of them. I was pleasantly surprised at how much response I got when I asked the other moms if they wanted to host. They readily agreed. They saw how much fun the kids were having, and they wanted in on it. I love seeing everyone else’s perspectives and how they interpret the books.
And, another reason the moms love it is that they get 3 hours to spend time with their other children or run errands. Most of the moms drop their kids off for book club and come back later. This gives them some one-on-one time with their younger kids, and sometimes it just gives them a little break. Either way, it’s a nice perk to book club.
So how do you go about starting a book club in your community?
I have seven steps for starting a book club that I have listed below. You can download a checklist at the bottom of this article to help you start your book club for kids in your community.
Step 1: Decide on the type of group you want.
Like I said earlier, I designed our first group for middle schoolers. Due to the nature of the middle school crowd (and my daughter’s personality), I chose to make this group for girls only. In my experience, middle schoolers are freer with their opinions when members of the opposite sex aren’t sitting around the table.
We started with a few girls from our local homeschooling group. Our first meeting involved seven girls. Most of them had met, but few of them were friends. They gathered for tea and discussion at our Secret Garden Party. From that first book club meeting, these girls bonded. My plan to help my daughter build friendships with girls her age worked (and they were secretly learning from amazing literature)!
So, it’s important to decide what your motivation is in creating the book club.
- Are you wanting to make the book club a social outlet for the kids?
- Do you want to encourage a reluctant reader to open up a book and dive in?
- Is it important for you to expose your child to different forms of literature?
Once you’ve determined “why” you are creating the book club, then decide what age groups fit best and whether or not a co-ed setting would work for you.
Step 2: Invite members to join your book club.
When I decided to start our second book club, I felt much more at ease with the process. I put a post in on our local homeschool Facebook group. Then I started a Facebook group for just the book club and referred parents to that group.
We invited friends who weren’t involved in our local homeschooling group to join, too. We’ve had children from as far as an hour away travel to the book clubs. Don’t be hesitant to ask people to participate. After the first meeting, most of the students and their families were completely sold on the idea of a book club.
Step 3: Set up a mode of communication.
It’s important to be able to communicate with the parents of the book club members. As I mentioned previously, I started a closed Facebook group and added anyone who was interested in our book club. From the group, I was able to convey my ideas of what the book club would be like.
I posted the book list, a calendar of dates and times, and anything else I found relevant (like sales on books we might be using). I was also able to post events to our book club meetings and invite the group to attend.
Not everyone is on Facebook or social media for that matter. In that case, find other ways to communicate. Some alternatives are:
Step 4: Determine the books you will read.
When planning the books, I tried not to specify an age. I told the parents that the book choices would be within a certain reading age level and they could determine if their child would be able to read the book alone or as a family read-aloud. To help them make the decision, I made a list of books that we would be choosing from throughout the year.
Book lists can range from twenty to a hundred books (or at least mine did!). You can find lists from places like Brave Writer (we've used the list of Arrows and Boomerangs) or Real Aloud Revival. I’ve made a list of books we’ve used throughout the years by age that you can download at the link at the end of this article.
Or, you can always just pick the books for the year and let the moms choose the months to participate.
Step 5: Make a calendar and invite others to help plan.
If I had tried to organize every book club, every month, for two groups, I would have burnt out quickly. Instead, I made a Google Spreadsheet calendar of dates and times of all the book clubs for the school year.
I chose the first book to read and designated myself as the host of that book club. Then I opened the calendar up to all the other moms. Each mom could choose a book and a month to host. This was not a requirement, but entirely voluntary. I even offered my house as a location if a host mom didn’t want to use her home.
Once the moms chose their months and their books, I filled in the rest of the open spots. My goal is always to keep the book club going strong, so I’m happy to host multiple times in a year. However, I have found that the moms enjoy the “Party School” atmosphere almost as much as the kids and are eager to host.
Step 6: Invite members to the book club.
After we determined the books, hosts, and locations, I created events for each book club and invited the members of the groups. I also added a link to the book on the event page to make it easy for the parents to find the correct book. This has been especially helpful since some books have abridged and movie versions that can cause confusion.
At this point, I want to add that one of the reasons book club has been successful is that we take into consideration that sometimes families can’t participate every time. Attendance at book club is never mandatory. Many kids have had to miss one or more book clubs through the year due to illness, vacations or just simply because the month got away from them and they didn’t have time to read the book. This relaxed atmosphere actually keeps membership up because families know that they don’t have to commit to an entire year.
Step 7: Create an atmosphere of fun.
Book club shouldn’t be formal or rigid. Our book clubs are a way to have some fun as a group and expand on what the kids have read that month. Usually, the meetings start with snacks and book discussion and end with an activity or a movie. There isn’t a strict schedule to follow. We just do what feels like a natural extension of learning.
At our Tales of Despereaux book club, we ran with the idea of illegal soup and spent the afternoon learning how to make vegetable soup. At our Nim’s Island book club, we ate tropical fruit and made islands from salt dough. And, we even communicated with the author via Instagram!
What is important is that you don’t try to make the book club into a time to fill out reading comprehension worksheets and do vocabulary drills. Kids can see through that every time. We sometimes discuss literary themes and do writing activities, but only if we can have a fun way to spin them.
The goal is for the kids to have fun and become excited about the next book on their reading journey.
Are you ready to start a book club for kids in YOUR community?
Download the checklists below to help you to start a new adventure in literature that will make your kids excited to read!