Storybook Dads teaches literacy and parenting skills

11 June 2010

A programme that's been running at Otago Corrections Facility since 2007 in partnership with The Methodist Mission - Approach Community Learning has provided literacy and parenting skills to more than 140 prisoners.

The Storybook Dads programme runs for ten weeks and is offered three times a year. It results in a DVD of the father reading a book and this, along with a hard copy of the book, is delivered to the children in time for Easter, Fathers Day or Christmas.

The big break-through came earlier this year when approval was granted for the prisoners to be videoed reading the stories, says Dorothy Crofts, Programme Manager, Otago Corrections Facility. This means that families can see the men rather than just hear their voices. Music and other sound effects are also added to the DVD.

“Until this year, all the children could see on the DVD was the page of the book as dad was reading it. There were no music, sound effects or special messages,” Dorothy says.

“Now, we’re taking it to another level and encouraging the men to write and illustrate their own books. I’m also pushing for the programme to be run in te reo.”

Dorothy describes Storybook Dads as a “very powerful tool” and would like to see it introduced in all New Zealand prisons, and for women as well as men. “The men say to me that it’s a way for them to tell their children not to make the mistakes they have made.”

Two trained tutors work with the men for two hours a week. One has expertise in literacy and parenting, the other has computing and multimedia skills.

Storybook Dads aims to reconnect families, build the relationship between father and child, and encourage literacy in the whole family. In the process, the men develop new skills and knowledge. For example:

•    choosing a story they think their children will like
•    reading and articulation skills (different voices for each character within the story, phrasing skills and creating an atmosphere so the children will want to join in)
•    storyboarding skills (setting out the story on paper the way it will be told)
•    adding extras such as music, sound effects and any special messages they might wish to include within the story to personalise it and allow the children to feel part of the story. This requires the development of relationship skills, imagination and the expression of empathy.
•    writing skills where the prisoners make a card for their children to go with the DVD
•    the opportunity to talk about parenting skills, children’s behaviour and positive modelling.

Charles Pearce, Practice Leader, The Methodist Mission – Approach Community Learning, says that most of the men taking part in Storybook Dads are the product of broken homes, violence, drug abuse and gang involvement.

“Some of the men have been in foster care for most of their lives and for some, their parents and siblings were also in prison,” Charles says. “Storybook Dads helps them make contact with their children and families.  The men know the risk of possible rejection better than most people but they all want to produce a perfect DVD for their children.”

Anecdotal evidence points to significant benefits when the children receive the DVD and play the stories, following along on the hard copy of the book. For some, it is the first time they have owned a book.


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