Pekin’s Willow Primary School’s Family Reading Night highlighted literacy while also getting parents involved in their child’s reading.

Students, families and teachers gathered inside Willow School, 1110 Veerman St., for the event from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday as they explored reading strategies and experienced a craft, snacks, a photo booth opportunity, therapy dogs and a free book to take home. Classes in kindergarten through third grade decorated classroom doors and bulletin boards outside their classrooms ahead of time.

Eventgoers also celebrated Dr. Seuss’ 115th birthday, which would have been on March 2. Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Geisel, wrote beloved books such as “The Cat in the Hat,” “Hop on Pop” and “The Lorax.”

Third-grade teacher Carrie Smith said her class created an art project based on her favorite Dr. Seuss book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.” Each of her students wrote what they would like to be when they grow up on a balloon that looks like the balloons in the book. Those were then cut out and placed on the bulletin board to look like each student is floating in the sky.

“I want the students to realize that the sky’s limit,” said Smith. “They can be anything they want to be. I think it is an inspiring book. It is a story that explains even when things don’t always work out the way we want, perseverance pays off.  We can reach our goals and do great things.” 

In the event’s kindergarten and first-grade activity room, students were invited to make a bookmark with reading strategies listed on it. They could also build words with magnetic letters or get an iPad and listen to an audio book.

Danielle Lavin, a first-grade teacher who also helped organize the evening, said the theme for Family Reading Night is relatable to all Willow School families. 

“We chose the author because he includes humor and meaningful messages,” Lavin said. “This is a way to involve our families here at school.”

The second and third grade activity room had reading specialist Abby Hill and second-grade teacher Trisha Clark with reading strategies parents could do at home to help their children. There was a long vowel matching game, a word scramble with foam letters and a vocabulary building game.

“I wanted to set my classroom up for second and third grade because parents always want to help with spelling and reading. So these are all activities parents could do at home,” Hill said. “Tonight is a great way to bring parents into their child’s reading life.”

Another classroom featured therapy dogs from WOOF (We Offer Our Friends) Therapy Dogs. Joy Belsley of WOOF Therapy Dogs brought Crosby, a collie. Crosby listened to 8-year-old McKarly Bayard read the book “Owl Babies Fly.”

Belsley said her group was started by a group of friends who serve central Illinois by going to nursing homes and schools. 

“The dogs are not judgmental when mistakes are made,” she said. “We have found the kids’ reading skills improve. It makes the kids happy. This helps them mentally and physically.”

Reading with the dogs was 7-year-old Evangeline Test’s favorite part of the reading night. She and her mom Gabrielle Test enjoyed their time getting to read together at school. Evangeline, a first grader in Lavin’s class, said she also likes to write. The duo also got to make Thing 1 and Thing 2 hats from the Dr. Seuss book “The Cat in the Hat.”

Before families left for the evening, children were encouraged to go to the gym, where each child got to pick a book and take it home free of charge. There was a variety of book levels from pre-school through middle school. The Pekin Public Library had a table promoting Youth Services programs, and their Spring 2019 Activity Guides were available featuring programs for all ages.