It has been 12 years since Daphne Macnaughton was principal of Saanichton Elementary where she started redistributing children’s books to families in need.
Since then, the elementary school has been transformed into the Individual Learning Centre with a hair school, trades education, and more. But Macnaughton still returns every Thursday from 9 until noon to clean and sort those books with a dedicated team of volunteers.
Macnaughton said the program is called the “1000 x 5 Children’s Book Recycling Project” because children are more likely to succeed in school if children have had 1000 books read to them by the time they are five, which, “if you do the arithmetic, is not even a book a day.”
“In all the years I worked in public education, I met some children coming into kindergarten every year who had either no experience with books, they didn’t know what a book was, or their experience was very, very limited,” said Macnaughton.
She said that such children start school with delays in language development, general knowledge and literacy.
”They don’t know that the words on the page are where the story comes from. They think the story is coming from the teacher and the pictures,” she said.
These children in turn require more time in learning assistance apart from fellow students, so this program is an exercise in prevention.
“We know that we can’t fix everything that is a challenge for children and there are some kids with genuine learning difficulties but there’s a lot we can do,” said Macnaughton.
The group is strict about the books they accept. They reject overly commercial books, Barbie books, Disney books with “scantily clad heroines,” and books with violence. Books meant for older readers are passed onto homework clubs.
They also inspect books for physical condition, using a melamine sponge or eraser where necessary.
“If a book doesn’t look like a gift, then we don’t give it out.”
Books are then distributed at various places on the Peninsula like the Sidney Lions’ Food Bank, community health facilities, and public libraries.
To support the project, Macnaughton relied on an extensive network. She first approached friends for sorting help, then Peninsula Connections for Early Childhood and Beacon Community Services which acts as a financial steward. She approached the school district, where she worked for 20 years, and asked for working space, other schools to serve as donation drop-off points, and the district courier to deliver donations to the group for sorting. All said yes.
Macnaughton also applies for grants, which she said is “incredibly time consuming” because each grant has a different application process and deadline. They also require her to write mid-year and final reports. She also meets with service clubs like the Rotarians and attends public meetings at local government. A chance meeting with someone from Orca Books resulted in them selling new books to the program at cost.
She has applied to the District of Central Saanich for funding (she was councillor Niall Paltiel’s elementary school principal), but she is not certain she will get it. As of last week the group has moved 127,841 books (they count them all), so the group has moved “many libraries worth of books.”
She hopes that she can meet more people who can support the project in some way, financial or otherwise. Macnaughton can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.