In which Brianna presents a couple of options for military families to stay connected by reading to their littles, even when they're away.
A great deployment strategy for a resilient family
Here at Busy Nest News, we love reading. It entertains us, challenges us, broadens our horizons, deepens our empathy for others, and it makes us smarter. So when we heard that other military families use reading to stay connected to each other during deployments, it seemed a natural and wonderful solution.
Some fortunate families can video chat daily during deployments. Since every day isn’t necessarily remarkable, frequent chats like that are a great opportunity to read books to littles or discuss books with the spouse or older kids back home. However, most of us aren’t in that position. If Monkey’s daddy was deployed right now, the very best he could manage would be an almost daily email, maybe. Worst communication situation would be a phone call once or twice a month. As a couple, we’ve experienced both scenarios. Monkey will not hang out on the phone long enough for her daddy to read her a story. But she would still miss having him read to her, as reading is already an integral part of our family’s routines. Fortunately, I know of some resources to bridge the gap between technologically deprived service members and the littles who love them.
United Through Reading (UTR)
United Through Reading (http://unitedthroughreading.org/) works directly with commands and bases to help soon-to-deploy service members record themselves reading a book for their kids. All they have to do is find their nearest recording location, pick a book, and read it. The volunteer sets up the camera, adds the files to UTR’s DVD program, and burns the disc. The service member then gives the disc, and usually the books they read, to the little they’re leaving behind. If they’re really pressed for time, UTR provides the recording location with padded envelopes the service member can address before they record. The volunteers then put the materials in the addressed envelope and mail them to the child. Then the child can watch a DVD of their person reading stories to them over and over. United Through Reading is free to use.
A Story Before Bed (http://www.astorybeforebed.com/military) is a service that allows a person to record themselves reading a book from their library of over 500 titles, using a computer or iPad. When the child watches the recording, they see the book onscreen, along with an inset video of the adult reading the book to them. The video can be paused to allow the little to look at the illustrations a while longer. Although the video is stored on the cloud and not on a DVD, you can download it to a computer or iPad for offline viewing. A Story Before Bed costs $9.99 a month, $99.99 once for a lifetime subscription, or you can record most of their books for $6.99 each without a plan. The plans give you access to all of the books, and you can record, share and view them as many times as you like. No matter how you do it, you don’t pay for the recording until you’re satisfied with how it turns out.
How to decide
So which of these services should you use? I’m honestly torn, but there’s really no reason you couldn’t use both. That said, pre-deployment workups are a busy time, and you might have to pick one this time around. So let’s look at the pros and cons to help you decide.
Basically, I wish UTR and A Story Before Bed would get together already. In a perfect world, UTR would set up stations to use A Story Before Bed’s interface, and they would hook them up with a larger library of books from more publishers. The service member would record themselves reading, without worrying about holding up the book for the camera, and the family could choose to watch the recordings off the cloud, or could maybe pay $10 to have a disc with 3 or so recordings on it sent to them. But we don’t live in a perfect world, so what we have are two great options that knock it out of the park in some ways, and fall short in other, different ways.
Here's the good news. You can’t really mess this up if you pick either one. United Through Reading was started because service members were already recording themselves reading to their kids, and there was some anecdotal evidence that this might increase resilience in the kids and strengthen the bond between parent and child, even during a deployment. Now that UTR has been running for several years, they have real data to back up this hunch. That does not mean you need to use UTR’s services to reap the benefits of such a recording. It’s the reading to the kids even when you’re gone that’s important. Also, this concept is not just service members with kids of their own. I used to set up UTR sessions on our base, and it was quite popular among proud aunts, uncles, and older siblings, too. Likewise, A Story Before Bed focuses some of their marketing on connecting grandparents with their grandchildren who live too far away to visit regularly. So even if a deployment isn’t imminent, your family might want to loop the grandparents in on making similar recordings with their own equipment or subscribe to A Story Before Bed.
Ariel and Brianna are friends who met while working in a library. Now they collaborate to develop life-enhancing book club experiences.
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