Volunteers arrive a dawn to set up chairs and mats, slice breakfast fruit and haul in books – it’s a demanding operation to prep for 100 expectant tots and their parents.
Books for Breakfast has ballooned from a small effort at John Stubbs Memorial school to encourage parents to read to their kids, to a monthly community party with more children than organizers can handle.
“We thought this would be a one year thing. Four and a half years ago we thought 20 kids was a lot,” said Darlene Manthorpe, director of Books for Breakfast and who works at the Belmont Park preschool. “Now we have to cut it off at 100 because of parking.”
Entering its fifth year, the monthly, volunteer program now runs out of the gym in the Colwood Pacific Activity Centre, a branch of the Military Family Resource Centre.
It’s popularity has grown by word of mouth and parent networking, and it’s not hard to understand why – each session the kids get a free light breakfast, are read books and get a free book to take home. Parents get to socialize and a free coffee and snacks. Last year 208 different kids came to at least one Books for Breakfast, and many are repeat clients.
“This has grown just through word of mouth,” Manthorpe said. “This may be a West Shore initiative, but people come from all over Victoria.”
Langford parents Mark and Miriam Sargeant said the program has allowed them to expand their library of kids’ books for their 10 month old daughter Isla.
“It’s great. They’ve got a big carafe of coffee and it’s great to see other parents,” said Miriam, who took Isla to five sessions last winter and spring. “When it’s your first kid, it’s great to get back out into doing community events.”
“For parents it’s a networking and social time. And it’s a big event for kids. They get to see friends they’ve made,” Manthorpe said. “It’s a party atmosphere and they get a book.”
Manthrope is budgeting $9,900 to cover books and expenses, funded through grants from the Sooke School District, Literacy Connection West Shore, among others. MFRC gives the space for free. Many of the volunteers are teachers with Belmont Park preschool and are critical to the success of the program.
“It’s so much fun to do,” Manthorpe said. “We get way more back from the kids and parents than what we put in. We get so excited, it’s kind of an adrenaline rush.”
The premise behind the program is encouraging positive associations between books and reading, and to show parents that reading to their kids is a fun activity. The BFB volunteer storytellers tend to be teachers or entertainers, who are good a getting the kids engaged and interacting with the story.
“When we read a book, we are modelling how to read. (Storytellers) engage the kids, they talk about what is happening, they get kids to take part in the story,” Manthorpe said.
“We want parents and children reading together, we want them to look at books and reading as a lot of fun, not because its something they have to do.”
It may be counterintuitive, but tots from zero to six years old make an engaged audience, Manthrope said. Most don’t have a problem sitting through breakfast, two book readings and several sing-alongs. Parents, on the other hand, can be a touch chatty.
“It’s not a tough audience at all. The kids are fantastic,” Manthorpe said. “Kids are noisy because they are interacting with the book, so parents think they can chat. The biggest problem is parents talking in the background.”
Parents interested in registering for Books for Breakfast can email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on Books for Breakfast, see www.sookewestshoreliteracy.ca, under programs.
Books for babies
Not to be confused with Books for Breakfasts, the Greater Victoria Public Library runs the Books for Babies program, where all new parents are given a free cloth bag, a book, a music CD and information on literacy.
About 2,000 bags per year are given to parents in the Capital Region through the libraries or public heath units. The program is funded annually through TD Bank Financial Group, which gives $30,000 and the Steve Nash Foundation, which gives $15,000.
“This is a valuable program for young parents, and it’s free,” said Andrea Brimmell, head librarian at Juan de Fuca and Goudy branches. The library branches have reading times for babies and parents.
See gvpl.ca/about-the-library/our-community/books-for-babies or call 250-413-0365 for more information on Books for Babies.