Teachers often express concern over finding it increasingly difficult to get children interested in reading. The books have been replaced by computer games, Internet and television. Mainly due to this the project “Lugemispesa” (reading nest) was launched in Estonia in 2004. The first leader of this project that mainly includes preschoolers and first stage of school was Maili Vesiko-Liinev, who later researched reading nests for her master’s thesis. We do not know for sure how many reading nests there are in schools and preschools but based on courses and feedback it is possible to estimate that there are well over two thousand.
The reading nest concept is an Estonian invention, the so-called Estonian Nokia. It was created by the members and the board of the Estonian Reading Association. It was named by Made Pandis when she was still a student herself. The difference between the reading nest and a regular reading corner is in the atmosphere. The nest has been designed for feeling safe and cozy. There are soft pillows and rugs. It is possible to separate from the outside world or alternatively spend quality time together with friends. Activities in these nests are connected to books – reading, thematic drawings or crafts. There is a possibility to listed to audio books and to create theater plays. The most important aspect of these nests is that the rules have been made by children themselves. Thanks to that they feel well and safe in these nests. Such environment supports the development of reading habits.
During the first year the reading nest project was financially supported by the Embassy of Netherlands in Tallinn. Due to that the project had a great kick-start. A preparation course was organized for the first interested participants who in turn began to spread the knowledge, skills and experiences in all the counties. This is how the project spread like wildfire all over Estonia. In the following years a small support has been received from the Gambling Tax Council. With the help of this the circle of mentors has slowly grown. In addition to the local courses and personal counselling the presentations by mentors take place at every conference organized by the Estonian Reading Association. At these conferences the best reading nests have been awarded, and through fun poster presentations and exhibitions we have got acquainted with these. Several teachers working with these nests have also published their good ideas as games or books.
Under the guidance of Maili the reading nest project received the Award for Innovative Literacy Promotion in Europe in 2009.
Following that the management of the project was handed over to Anneli Laamann and Kaja Kivisikk. Anneli coordinated the activities in North Estonia and Kaja worked in South Estonia. Together they tried to continue Maili’s work and a goal was set to organize reading nest courses in the areas that had so far been slightly less involved.
In 2009 the first reunion of the reading nests took place in Tartu. Children from different schools with the reading nests gathered in the main hall of the Oskar Luts Tartu City Library, where together they made a new book, introduced the mascots of their reading nests, played games and read. Some more reunions were organized in different Tartu libraries. In the last years the location has been the Tartu Descartes School. The organizers of these events are teachers Kaja Kivisikk (Tartu Descartes School) and Mai Sula (Tartu Hansa School). These reunions focus on students from city and county schools, 1-2 grades. The structure of these events is playful, switching between competitions and practical activities.
A fixed format has developed over the years. At every reunion one book by an Estonian writer is discussed. The book must be relevant for the children and to have been recognized in some way. Thus, on several occasions the books chosen have received either the Nukits Competition or Raisin of the Year Award. The second criteria of choice is writer’s anniversary. Last year we celebrated Ellen Niit’s 90th anniversary by discussing her book “Triinu ja Taavi lood” (Stories of Triin and Taavi).
By now the reading nests in schools, preschools and libraries have taken root. The project has reached its original goal and has started to aim at new heights. Now the leaders of the project focus on training the teachers and parents. The topics are still related to children’s reading experiences. The instructors of the Estonian Reading Association can be invited everywhere in Estonia to share their knowledge and experiences.