Reading Force: How Shared Reading Can Keep Armed Forces Families Close and Connected

What is Reading Force?

Even though there are many positives to military life, families with a parent in the Forces face particular challenges. These can include moving home and school repeatedly, extended amounts of time apart and a sense of isolation. That's where Reading Force comes in; it's a reading and scrapbook initiative which is both practical, fun and the only resource of its kind offered free to all British Armed Forces personnel and their families, including Army, Navy, Marines, RAF, Ex-Services, Veterans, Reservists and Cadets.

Our aim is to support military families to spend quality time together and share and talk about books for pleasure – sharing books can lead to really good chats! Families who take part in Reading Force find it helps to reduce stress, increases communication and connectedness, and strengthens good family relationships, thereby bolstering the emotional, social, mental and physical wellbeing of every family member. It also helps to build resilience, boost literacy and increase empathy.

How does Reading Force Work?

We give out free books and specially designed scrapbooks to Forces children of all ages, from babies to young adults. Families are encouraged to form a mini book group and involve extended family and friends, no matter how far apart they live. We have had families sharing books who live on separate continents! Families can use the free book we send them (one for each child), or they can choose their own book to read and talk about. Then they use the scrapbook to record their thoughts about the book with writing, drawings or photographs – the more creative and imaginative the better!Olivia filling out her scrapbook

Families can take part in Reading Force at any time. Lots of families join in during deployments and training, when an absent parent can be involved via Skype or Facetime or send texts and emails. But Reading Force can also be used around school and home moves, or at home when settled and together. It is flexible, so families can choose when to get involved depending on their individual circumstances. Many families take part in Reading Force several times, returning to it at a time that suits them. Lots of families use Reading Force as a way to regroup when a parent returns from deployment, a time of readjustment that can be challenging. 

When a family has filled their scrapbook they can send it to us free of charge and enter it into our biannual scrapbook competition. Every child then receives a certificate and a book, to acknowledge their participation and to encourage them to continue reading together. All scrapbooks are returned by registered post, so children can keep them as a memento of their shared family experience.

Reading Force families are proof of how sharing books together helps. Olivia, aged 7, whose Dad is in the Navy, said: ‘Mr Stink was the first book me and Daddy shared together when he was away working. When Daddy was away I didn’t want to talk to him on the phone because I didn’t know what to say but what happened? We started Reading Force and it brought me closer to him. We started talking about our favourite bits in the book’. 

The Broome family loved taking part in the project

How Pre-Schools, Schools and Libraries Can Benefit from Reading Force

Schools and nurseries that provide support to Forces children and families can also use Reading Force, and play an important role in helping us to identify and distribute our resources to Service families. After registering online, schools are sent a full pack of resources including scrapbooks (with a free book voucher) and parent/carer letters. They can then send these home with their Forces pupils, leaving families to do the rest. Schools with a Service children’s club or Military Kids Club can also offer Reading Force themselves as an activity to boost literacy. 

Fiona Maxwell

Fiona Maxwell is the Scottish Ambassador for Reading Force, a charity which provides free reading resources to all British Armed Forces personnel and their families. The charity’s aim is to use shared reading as a means of bringing Service families closer together. To find out more about Reading Force, contact Fiona Maxwell by email fiona@readingforce.org.uk or on 07548 778 930, or visit our website www.readingforce.org.uk