On a recent Thursday evening, Pecan Valley Elementary School Principal Merrill Ramsey, dressed in a formal white shirt and black bow tie, greeted students and their parents near the entrance to the school cafeteria to escort them into the “restaurant.”
About 20 teachers dressed as waiters bustled around tables covered in white cloths, taking orders from about 50 students in pre-K through third grade and their families.
The main course wasn’t edible, though it was food for thought. On the menu were books, just books, all available for “takeout.”
At the “Reading Restaurant,” students and their families decide what to order, and a teacher comes over to read their selection with those at the table. Later they take books home.
While it mimicks a fancy dining room and bookstore — both in short supply near Pecan Valley — the restaurant is an unconventional approach to literacy.
“I think elementary school is a critical time where you can help kids learn to love books,” said Lauri Peters, a dyslexia specialist at the school for 24 years. “So doing ‘Reading Restaurant’ helps put books in hands of a lot of families that don’t possibly have books at home to share with their children.”
It also reinforces the message that parents need to read to and with their children, making it a priority in the home.
“I think allowing them to choose their book gets them motivated,” Peters said. “I get goose bumps because reading is my love and the goal is to make reading fun. And watching parents reading with their kids gives me a positive feeling of what we can do when we all get involved.”
“Getting the parents just to come to the school is important because many parents might have had a bad experience in school and they don’t feel comfortable in a school,” Ramsey said. “So this event shows we can have fun with them, they get to know staff better and seem more willing to work with us.”
The restaurant is only open one hour a year. At closing time, every child in the room strolled up to a table full of books — from Dr. Seuss’ classics to “Curious George” — selected one and headed home to start Spring Break.