Despite the presence of nearly 30 small children, the Children’s Department of Denton’s Barnes & Noble is relatively hushed Friday morning as Madison Ellis, vice president of Texas Woman’s University’s chapter of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, reads “Pete the Cat” to a crowd of attendees.
Throughout the summer, members of TWU’s chapter of the ATPE will lead local children in stories, singing and crafts at Barnes & Noble’s Golden Triangle Mall location as part of the Storytime reading program. Members of ATPE lead the program, which is aimed at fostering fun and learning among participants, every Friday during TWU’s summer semester and monthly throughout the fall and spring terms.
Although Fridays’ Storytime was the first of the summer semester for ATPE, organizers said the beach-themed bash generated plenty of interest.
“We just posted on our Facebook page that it’s standing room only, which is a big deal because we have a lot of kids here,” Laken Pak, president of ATPE and education senior, said.
“We were really surprised [because] we were expecting maybe 12 kids since this is the first one of summer,” Rebecca Fredrickson, co-faculty adviser of ATPE, said.
Storytime events emphasize creativity and engagement for children who might otherwise have limited educational opportunities over the summer months.
“A lot of kids aren’t read to by parents,” Fredrickson said. “The number-one predictor of reading success is being read to and having someone sit down and read with you.”
Despite the emphasis on learning, organizers said programming is created with a laidback atmosphere in mind.
“It’s very low-stress for parents and very low-stress for kids,” Fredrickson said. “It’s fun, but there’s still an education base to it.”
Though the activities are aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 6 during the long semesters, the summer sessions provide opportunities for older children that choose to participate.
“In the summer it actually extends up through fifth grade, and a few years ago we started expanding even up into middle school with a young adult reading club,” Fredrickson said. “It’s really kind of for all ages. We work with every child that’s there.”
ATPE reached out to Barnes & Noble nearly 10 years ago to coordinate the community-partnership program, which Fredrickson said began as a way for future educators to reach students during the summer months.
“The students wanted more opportunities to engage with children,” Fredrickson said.
Fredrickson said the program benefits not just the children that attend, but ATPE members as well.
“Our teacher-ed students plan the books and plan the projects – they’re thematic in nature – so it’s a great opportunity for them to practice that classroom management and planning in an unstructured setting,” Fredrickson said.
Given the financial strain many educators face, Fredrickson said the initiative also allows future teachers to witness how free, strategic partnerships can enrich learning beyond the classroom.
“One of the areas our schools are still struggling with is how to create those partnerships with different outside groups,” Fredrickson said. “This gives our students an opportunity to see ways to partner with a public entity that costs the entity nothing, costs the school nothing, and has great benefit for both.”
Fredrickson said she has seen the positive community impact of the reading program firsthand.
“Several years ago, we had a couple of parents who were new to the U.S. and were very, very excited about this,” Fredrickson said. “They decided they wanted to come to TWU and come to college to get their degrees based on what their kids learned from our teacher-ed students here at the university.”
Above all, organizers said they hope to continue giving back to the community by fostering literacy through Storytime for decades to come.
“I think it’s an important event to continue because students need to continue reading and being inspired to do amazing things,” Pak said.
Those interested in finding out more about TWU-ATPE’s programming can follow the organization’s Facebook page.
Featured image: Members of Texas Woman’s University’s chapter of the Association of Texas Professional Educators pose with children attending Storytime at Barnes & Noble in Denton on June 7, 2019. Photo by Amber Gaudet