Building Community & Literacy through Family Reading Nights


“Tonight we’re going to read!” exclaimed a mother to her daughter as they excitedly chose a book to take home from a Family Reading Night. These events, funded through a small grants program of the Oakland Reads 2020 initiative, took place at 37 Oakland preschools and Title I elementary schools in the 2014-15 school year. Hundreds of students and their families came together to participate in literacy-building activities and celebrate the fun of reading. All together, schools gave away more than 3,600 books to encourage the habit of families reading together at home.


School staff members and non-profit program providers put hard work, creativity, and collaboration into these events and shared back their success and lessons learned:

Parent Engagement

As a teacher from Markham Elementary reported, the popularity of the Family Reading Night showed that “parents of our students want to get  involved in their students lives and what is going on in the [school] community. It was a very good and effective way to give parents guidance on how to help their children when they are not here at school.”’

International Community School used the event to engage families in supporting students language development, and shared that “the Family Literacy Night was a way for us to include families with fun, easy to replicate at home activities to books.” The Emerson Child Development Center used the event as a launchpad for future collaboration with parents reporting that “almost all families in attendance signed up to receive continued tips and information about how to continue making the most of family reading time.”

Some schools even gave parents the chance to learn from each other. At Lighthouse Community Charter School, “one highlight of the evening was parents sharing their own struggles and strategies for reading with their children.”

Making Connections

Many schools built excitement for their events by selecting a theme for their Family Reading Night and linking it to classroom learning.

Schools also used the events to introduce parents to the school day curriculum. At Lighthouse Community Charter School, “one of our goals for family engagement is to help families understand the new Common Core Standards. The parent workshops were a powerful opportunity for families to understand the different aspects of reading, not only decoding but also comprehension and thinking beyond the text.”

At Vincent Academy, students spent time during the school day learning about insects and spiders and classes created technical drawings of insects for display in the school library. On their Family Reading Night, the school hosted a storyteller who shared  African jungle stories and songs with insect themes. The school also welcomed two UC Berkeley scientists  who brought three live spiders, including a huge tarantula! All the students received bug catchers to take home along with insect-themed books.

Family and Community Togetherness

To bring families together and help foster a positive culture of reading, schools worked to create a cozy, nurturing environment for their events.

Think College Now Elementary set the tone for a warm evening by encouraging students to wear pajamas and serving hot chocolate.  Another standout, Parker Elementary, themed their evening “Camp Parker.” The event was led by a teacher who came in his park ranger uniform from a past job. The gym was set up with icicle lights to represent the stars and chairs positioned in large circles with a flashlight “camp fires” in  the center. Everyone sat around the camp fires and read to one another; students read to teachers, families read the their children, and students read to each other.

Keep the Momentum

Many schools capitalized on the presence of so many parents to get them involved in other literacy activities on campus. REACH Academy, for example, reported that they “had the highest parent engagement at a Family Literacy Night in 4 years! Families then signed up to read and volunteer on Read Across America Day.”

Looking Ahead

OR2020 will be offering these grants again in the 2015-16 school year. We anticipate opening the application process in October and invite interested applicants to review our website for more information.

In the meantime, OR2020 will be sponsoring Summer Reading Celebrations, similar to Family Reading Nights, for elementary, preschool, and community-based summer programs serving children ages 0-8. Programs interested in applying for funding can learn more here!

Our staff would be happy to answer any questions you might have about how to design and implement your own Family Reading Night. Please email if you would like to be added to our mailing list to receive announcements about this program and other events taking place as part of the OR2020 campaign.


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