Children gather at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Denton nearly every Friday for a different type of story time.
Texas Woman’s University students read three books to the children, commanding their attention in a way that more closely resembles a classroom exercise than a bookstore activity.
The program is a partnership between TWU’s chapter of the Association of Texas Public Educators and Barnes & Noble dating back to 2010. Starting as a summer program with a few students, the program now draws about 30 children each week and is held year-round, said Rebecca Fredrickson, a TWU professor and a program director.
“This started as a suggestion from the students,” she said. “Our students said they really wanted to interact with kids over the summer but didn’t know how.”
The TWU students are still in charge, Fredrickson said. They pick a theme every week — a recent topic was monsters — and then find books that fit the theme. Barnes & Noble allows the TWU students to borrow the books to study and practice reading aloud, and the students also design an activity that the children can enjoy after reading time.
“They come up with this — we kind of guide them and direct them, but we don’t override them unless there’s truly a problem,” Fredrickson said. “The monsters were one thing we questioned, but we want it to be theirs and have them be the creative force behind it.”
By picking the books, transitions and the activities, teaching candidates have a chance to practice their skills over the summer and also enhance their classroom management skills, said Sarah McMahan, a TWU professor who also directs the program.
“It’s not inside the confines of the classroom, but it’s working with children and it’s very important to refine those skills as a teacher,” she said. “It’s not just about reading a book — there’s a lot more to it that’s part of this program.”
Since the program began, more than 120 TWU students studying to be educators and even more children have participated in the program. It has also had some unintended benefits, like familiarizing parents with higher education and making college seem less intimidating.
“Parents are recognizing this is a college service — it makes college more plausible for them and not as scary,” McMahan said. “One parent said, ‘Oh, you don’t look like college professors and don’t seem as intimidating,’ one time. We want to showcase that transparency, and let them know that college is readily available for everyone.”
The service also helps promote Barnes & Noble, said Mark Brown, community relations manager at the Denton store.
“It’s fun for the parents and kids to interact with these new teachers, and it’s different from having an employee come out to do story time,” he said. “I can’t do it and have as much fun as they do.”
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.