A charity that helps and encourages deployed parents to read with their children over video calls to ease separation anxiety is marking a decade of a project to bring Armed Forces families closer together through books.
Fun family time does not have to wait until a parent returns from deployment.
By speaking to each other via video calls, or catching up by emails and phone conversations, children can read with their parents or be read to by them wherever they are in the world - or just share conversations about the books and stories they've read.
Among those who have found comfort by the work of the charity Reading Force is avid young reader George who was given a free book and scrapbook while his father was in Afghanistan. George and his father used FaceTime to read Roald Dahl's 'George's Marvellous Medicine' together, taking turns to be the narrator. George said:
“Dadad used funny voices and made reading really fun. We talk about the story and our favourite parts.”
Thanks to Reading Force's help, they were both able to maintain their special bond and George's father was able to support his son's love of reading, even from thousands of miles away.
The idea behind Reading Force was inspired by the charity's founder Dr Alison Baverstock’s own personal experience of using the love of reading she shared with her husband to help her children keep in touch with their deployed father. Speaking with BFBS, the Forces Station broadcaster Natasha Reneaux about the charity's beginnings, which you can hear above, she said:
“My husband was in the infantry, he was away a lot and we used to keep in touch through reading the same books and as children came along, we’d do that with them as well so it was purely first-hand experience.”
The charity started by working with local schools and military units in Aldershot and now, ten years later, Reading Force has circulated around 21,000 books and 160,000 scrapbook books around the forces world.
How Does Reading Force Work?
The idea is simple and available to families from all branches of the Armed Forces and veterans.
Families choose a free book they want to read together. By reading the book wherever they are in the world and no matter the distance between them, they feel connected and can have deeper conversations because they are talking about something they are both sharing.
Lucy Lake’s husband serves as a Submariner with the Royal Navy, a job which sees him living below the surface for up to three months at a time sometimes. Because of this prolonged separation from her children, Lucy read the charity’s books with her young children while her husband was deployed over Christmas.
LISTEN: Lucy Lake speaks to BFBS, the Forces Station broadcaster Natasha Reneaux about her own family's experience of Reading Force
Picture Credit: rawpixel.com
At a time when most families arrange plans to spend time with one another, Lucy found that her husband was deployed and her mother had to stay away because of the risk of catching COVID-19. She said:
“My mum’s a key worker so we couldn't risk her potentially coming into my house and possibly my daughter picking up a strain of it from nursery, the Coronavirus, and then possibly passing it onto my mum.”
The mother of two chose ‘The Invisible String’ by Patrice Karst, a book written to help children cope with separation anxiety, loss and grief. The story is of a mother who tells her children they are all connected by an invisible string made of love.
You cannot see it but it is there, real and a way to keep you connected to the ones they love. About choosing The Invisible String to help her children cope with being without their father for months at a time, Lucy said:
“It’s very much a case of everyone's connected by an invisible string and I thought that was brilliant for having two kids under the age of four who obviously have no idea that daddy’s actually kind of at sea and what he does.”
Reading the book with her children helped them begin to understand that their father was deployed but they still had a way to stay connected.
"Once we read that book it was like ‘oh, I don't need daddy now, it's fine. We’re attached by a string’.
"It was very nice for her to know that we are all connected and that this kind of brought him into the picture even though he wasn't there.”
Since returning home, Lucy’s husband has been able to talk about the book with his children and learn about the invisible string attached to each other by looking at the scrapbook they created as a family. She said:
“It was nice because ... she knew that she had that to look forward to for him coming home as well and it was something different.”
Reading Force became a useful tool during the Coronavirus government-imposed lockdown as well. It helped families restricted from seeing each other talk over the phone or via video calls about what they were reading together.
How Can You Get Involved?
If you are a military family, head to www.readingforce.org.uk, tell them how many people will be involved and the age of the children and they will send you a free age-appropriate book. They will also send you a scrapbook for the children to express their thoughts and explore the stories further in their own way.
Reading Force also sends a copy of the book to the deployed parent or wider family to have and then you can read it together over Skype.