Doorstep Library’s weekly e-visits were launched back in April as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the temporary suspension of our projects. We at Doorstep Library want to do everything we can to continue to support families in discovering the magic of books and reading, especially at this most challenging time. We still want to support children’s reading, encourage their interest in books, and be a supportive, friendly presence for the whole family.
In the last three months, we’ve learned a lot about reading with kids online. Each visit is a video call and – just like a normal Doorstep visit – it’s at a fixed time every week and lasts approximately 20 minutes. On the video call is the child, their two regular Doorstep volunteers who they know already, and a parent on hand to help.
Children under 5
The obvious difference we’ve found is it’s harder to keep a small child’s attention online – as grandparents around the world will know.
For that reason, it’s a good idea to start with a plan and launch straight in with energy. For instance, certain games work really well online. Sometimes we play hide and seek by flipping the camera around on our phone and asking a child to help us find books or toys that are hidden in the room behind us (‘shall we look in the oven?’). ‘Simon Says’ and treasure hunts (‘can you find a shoe? a carrot? a toothbrush?’) are also fun and engaging ways to begin a reading session. A familiar glove puppet or teddy can always join in the games too!
If you stick to the same structure for each call, small children quickly get used to the routine – saying hello, going on a hunt for today’s book, reading a few pages. After three or four weeks, they know what to expect and gleefully join in as soon as they see the volunteers’ faces.
It can be hard for pre-reading children to focus for long on books, even face to face. So, we’ve found we spend more time talking and playing games than we usually do on face to face visits. But even if we only look at a page or two, we’re helping build the idea that books can be special and joyous.
Children over 5
Doorstep Library’s weekly e-visits look quite different when we’re reading with older children, but they’re just as fun! These are a mix of the children reading to us from the books we’ve sent them in advance – and us reading to them.
One big difference is that because of the limitations of getting books sent to homes during lockdown, we’re reading the same one or two books little by little each week with older children. It’s a change from arriving with a wide selection of books each week that families borrow and enjoy together.
That means returning to the characters and ideas in a book and exploring them with the children more slowly. Each e-visit begins with questions about what was happening in the story last week, building on our past conversations – and jokes! This slower style of reading together isn’t always part of our in-person visits and feels like a new opportunity.
Just like our in-person visits, our e-visits are only 20 minutes, so we still focus on fun and encouraging a love of reading for pleasure outside of our sessions. It’s a wonderful feeling when in our next e-visit we hear that a child has read on without us. We don’t even mind having missed out on some of the story!
The e-visits also offer us the chance to forge new and stronger relationships with some of the families that we visit. Some families prefer in-person visits to take place on the doorstep (we’re called Doorstep Library for a reason!) and some parents aren’t yet in the habit of joining in with the sessions.
‘Doorstep Library online sessions have provided an amazing way to keep in touch with families during lockdown. Reading over the computer has worked surprisingly well and we’ve really enjoyed exploring different books and getting other family members involved in the sessions.’
– Katie, Doorstep Library volunteer
Our e-visits offer these families the chance to invite us inside the home in a way that, for whatever reason, they weren’t ready to in-person. It’s given us the chance to get to know these families better in a way that is still comfortable for them.
And it goes both ways – with our volunteers visiting from their own homes, families have had the opportunity to see a little bit more of who we are too, and even wave hello to our pets!
It’s also given us a chance to connect with parents directly through lockdown and offer a listening ear to them during this difficult time. They enjoy seeing our volunteers’ friendly faces each week almost as much as the children do.
We’re looking at how we can offer Doorstep Library’s weekly e-visits to more of our families throughout the summer and thinking about how they might evolve in the future.
We’re committed to tackling educational inequality both now in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond and we’re excited to build on the learning and opportunities that have come with the many challenges of the past few months. We’ve been Doorstep Library for 10 fantastic years – who knew that in 2020 we’d be invited into homes through a different portal!
To find out how you can keep your little ones reading, in lockdown and beyond, please read our blog: The therapy of reading – how to read during lockdown, written by Bibliotherapist, Ella Berthoud.