Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from MSTA member Jessica Gray about her experience building a Little Free Library with her third grade class.  Jessica is a teacher from Brighton MO, where she lives with her husband Dustin and their 7 month baby girl named Alice.  Jessica is in her 4th year of teaching, having taught 2nd grade, two years of 3rd grade, and is currently teaching Title 1 Math and Reading at Halfway Elementary School.  Jessica created this quick how-to guide for any educator interested in making a Little Free Library in their community.

How A Group of Third Graders Made A Lasting Literacy Impact & How You Can Too

During my teaching training, I was always told that there would be times my students would take a lesson in a direction different than I had intended and sometimes I should run with it, even if it wasn’t on the lesson plan!  One afternoon, my third grade class proved that their “direction” had a much bigger impact than what I had originally planned for.

While reading our free weekly newspaper (thanks to a literacy supported program by our local newspaper) we were enjoying the Education section of our paper.  The small blurb for the week talked about Little Free Libraries.  Little Free Libraries look like large bird houses with doors/selves, expect they aren’t for birds….they are for books!  The idea behind these Libraries is the “Take a book, give a book” moto.  When you see a book you would like to read, take it! But to keep the reading going, donate a book you loved for someone else to love it as well.

The article discussed what they were and how many towns and communities were putting these in place.  After reading, I began to move on to the next section, ready to point out my lesson full of non-fiction text features and how they can attribute to what the author wants us to know and learn, however, my students were not yet ready to give up the conversation about Little Free Libraries.  One student asked me if I had ever seen one in person.  I said no, but I had seen in a local news report that there were a few in a large town not far away.  From there, discussion exploded into a frenzy of “how cool” they where, and “Where can we get one?!”.  I posed the question to my students, “Why do you think a Little Free Library would be good for our town?”  We came up with a large list of outstanding reasons that this small box filled with books would benefit the small community.

One of my favorite reasons had to be that the closest library was easily 25 minutes away.  Many students expressed that they just didn’t have the transportation to get there and when school was out of session they weren’t able to get a hold of books like they were during the school year.  I was in awe of their passion to make their community and own lives improve with the addition of this Little Free Library.  It was then that I realized we had to see this project through.

We began by searching the Little Free Libraries website and took a look at the different “Libraries” they had to offer.  We had great conversation about expenses and that just because it was the “most expensive” didn’t mean that we needed it.  Once we found one we liked, we figured in how much paint and stain would be for our library and possibly payment to have someone put it in place.  As a class we decided that we would need around $600 to purchase the library and materials needed to put it in place.  Our next discussion was about how we could raise the money.  Bake sales, penny drives, and other ideas were discussed.  I brought up the idea of a GoFund me and explained to the students that GoFund Me was a fundraising page that allowed people to donate money to help us see our project through.  I told them that we would have to write up a story about what were raising money for, why we thought it was important, and include a picture.  They were all on board with this and we set to work writing up our “story” for the public to see.

Once we had all this done, we called our principal in to get final permission before launching our project.  For things like this to be successful, not only do you need your students backing you, but your administration as well.  Our amazing principal was on board with us and we launched our GoFund me page and waited.  After launching, I emailed the link to everyone in our district and well as shared it on my personal social media pages.  I also encouraged parents to share this link to family in an email I sent to them explaining the project.  This was on a Wednesday right before we dismissed. By the time we came back on Thursday we had our project 50% funded! By Friday at 1:30, our project was over 100% funded.  Myself and the kids were completely blown away with support.  In just 48 hours we had all we needed to see their project through.  This was such a boost for students to see that others in the community supported them and their ideas.

After ordering the materials and paint, we had to decided where to put our Library.  The town’s park was decided as a central location that many students could walk to if they weren’t able to drive.  Our principal contacted the City Administrator and the location was granted.  Timeline wise, we earned the money for our project in September, received our library around the end of October, had it ready to go around the beginning of November, had our location granted around December/Jan. and it was put up once the weather got warm in May.

Looking back now, there isn’t one thing I would do differently.  This lesson had such an impact not only on the kids, but on myself as well.  It helped me grow as a teacher and a person.  These kids will forever be able to drive by their park and see their bright pink library and know that they were apart of bettering their community.  They may not have known it then, but I hope they realize someday that they impacted their own community in the best way possible, giving them the gift of literacy!

Do you have a great story or teacher tip like Jessica shared?  Let us know about it using the form below.