Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

January 1, 2010

Teaching family bonding through a good book

Teaching family bonding through a good book


Children create arts and craft projects based on the evening's story. Activities might include making masks of a book's characters from everyday household products and finger puppets out of Popsicle sticks. The educators only use common products for their craft projects so it will be easier for the children to recreate the evening in the families' own homes.

In an effort to create family bonding and improve literacy, Milken Educator Kelly Stopp (GA '10), left, and her colleagues Suzanne Vogt and Kathryn Funk, devote one night a month to an event called Sunset Stories. Families from the neighborhood join them for an evening of reading and interpretation of children's stories like "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."

Parents (or older siblings) join their elementary-school age children for the monthly events. The educators coach parents on the importance of reading at home and suggest ways for parents to get more involved with the storytelling, such as asking questions about the pictures. Children each receive a copy of the book at the end of the evening in order to practice at home. Stopp uses her Milken Educator Award earnings to help fund this project. Local individuals and churches can also get involved and contribute.

"[Sunset Stories is] something our families can all be involved in and it's just right around the corner from their own home," said Stopp. "I think it's really building a good partnership and eliminating any negative past school experiences that any member of the family has."

Kelly Stopp's Sunset Stories program brings home the parent-child experience of reading

When Kelly Stopp (GA '10) was a child, her bedtime routine included curling up with her parents for some quality reading time.

"It was such a valuable time in my life when I was growing up -- bedtime stories with my mom and dad and being read to at night," said Stopp.

A ritual like this isn't always easy nowadays, what with long work schedules and sometimes even longer commutes. So Stopp, a second-grade reading specialist at Meadowcreek Elementary School in Norcross, GA, and two colleagues knew they had to find a way to teach families how to read to their children.

So once a month, Stopp and her partners bring families with children ranging from babies to fourth grade together at 6:30 p.m. for what they call Sunset Stories (tagline: "A story read just before bed"). This isn't a babysitting service; the educators require parents (or, if the parents aren't free, perhaps a high school-age sibling) to stay throughout the workshops. There is also a translator, as about 90-percent of the students are learning English as a second language.

So far in this new program, "we've done very simple books that are sing song-rhyme type of books and a classic fairy tale: 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears,'" said Stopp. "Even if parents are not literate in Spanish or English, we talk about the different things they can do with the reading, like asking questions and telling the story through the pictures."

At the end of the evening, the children are given a book to take home so they can extend the practice. The workshops also include activities like making masks of the characters out of everyday household products and finger puppets out of Popsicle sticks, writing songs about the stories and other strategies to recreate the evening in the families' own homes.

This is also part of a concentrated effort to keep costs down for the families. Stopp gives back to her community by using her Milken Educator Award money to buy books in bulk from Scholastic. An apartment complex close to school, which turns out to be home to 70-percent of their students, opened up their recreation room for Sunset Stories. The team also holds drawings for gift bags comprised of books and books on tapes donated by local churches and community members.

"[Sunset Stories is] something our families can all be involved in and it's just right around the corner from their own home," said Stopp. "I think it's really building a good partnership and eliminating any negative past school experiences that any member of the family has."


For more information about Sunset Stories, visit their website at SunsetStories.Weebly.com or email them at SunsetStories@hotmail.com.

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