Growing Home: The Chinese NGO that Tells Bedtime Stories to Rural Boarding Students

China Development Brief

中文 English

Since China’s economic reforms began, a growing number of its rural population have chosen to migrate to urban areas for better economic opportunities. Many social problems have emerged from this. More and more attention is being directed towards both “left-behind children” (those who do not travel with their parents to urban areas) and “migrant children” (those who do travel with their parents to urban areas). However little has been said about the millions of rural children who spend much of their childhood in boarding schools.

A bittersweet boarding experience

After the State Council addressed boarding schools in it’s “CPC Central Committee and State Council Decision on Deepening the Reform of the Comprehensive Promotion of Quality Education”, rural boarding schools have been undergoing a period of development, especially in the Western part of China. In a decade-long initiative, 370,000 under-performing schools were closed. However the number of elementary-level boarding school students rose to 32,760,000, of which 60% are “left-behind children”. 45% of the boarding schools have underage students in their first or second grade. 50% of boarding school students share beds. The average height of boarding school students is 6-8 cm lower than the average. 47.3% of students are haunted by depression and 63.8% experienced loneliness.

Those statistics were published in January 2015 in a report called the China Rural Boarding Students Report by an NGO called Growing Home (歌路营)1). By researching and surveying hundreds of schools in Hebei, Sichuan, Hunan and Yunnan, the report reflects the current situation and highlights contemporary problems with rural boarding schools. Growing Home has focused on problems facing rural boarding school students since 2012 when it announced it’s “New 1001 Nights: Bedtime Stories for Rural Boarding School Students” program. The program aims to improve students’ psychical and mental health, sense of belonging, relationships with other students, reading level, and general knowledge by telling stories to the boarding students before they go to bed.

1001 bedtime stories

The staff at Growing Home were inspired to implement this project after learning of a project called the “Late Show”, where volunteers read bedtime stories to juvenile offenders in Contra Costa County, California2 . The Late Show project was created by Betty Frandsen and aims to reduce violent behavior and improve their sense of belonging. Inspired by this, Growing Home conducted further research on the idea. They discovered bedtime stories are helpful in healing children, exposing them to new ideas, and stimulating creativity, concentration, and character-building. As a result, the staff at Growing Home worked out that they could read stories to boarding school students in the fifteen minutes before they went to sleep. With this the “New 1001 Nights” program was born.

Implementing the program was easy. They installed small speakers in every dorm, connecting them to the existing sound system and school computers. When teachers hit the play button, the students could go to sleep accompanied by bedtime stories. An easy model like this not only fulfilled the needs of the children, but also lessened the pressure on teachers assigned to nighttime duties.

However, although the program design was simple, the production of the stories was complicated. Growing Home aimed to produce stories that covered the needs of children with different ages, gender and personal preferences. They came up with a classification system that divided stories up into seven types: character building, growing & healing, knowledge & horizon, adventure, biographies, campus life and fairy tales. Each of the stories are chosen by a group of professional children’s book editors and the teachers themselves. They developed the stories from published books, magazines, news and the internet. They then edited the stories to fit the needs of children. Broadcasters from China National Radio and the Beijing Media Network, students and teachers from the Communication University of China, and professional broadcasters in Xi’an and Anhui would then read and record the stories. After a final editing, the staff from Growing Home would then categorize the stories and send them to rural boarding schools across China.

More than just stories

As of November 2014, the “New 1001 Nights” program has been implemented in 336 schools in 16 provinces across China. Over 70,000 rural boarding students now enjoy listening to bedtime stories while going to sleep. The program has received positive feedbacks from both children and teachers. Growing Home is also looking for ways to improve the project by assessing and evaluating the results. From April 2013 to April 2014, Growing Home tracked 235 boarding students from two schools in Chongqing. Using both quantitative and qualitative assessments with control groups, they explored the effects of the bedtime stories.

The result suggests that 97.1% of the students enjoyed the stories. 92.8% of the students developed a favorite story genre. 79.7% of them now enjoy dormitory life, which represents a 56.6% rise from last year. 88.4% developed an interest in reading, which is a 65.2% rise from before. 68.5% of non-boarding students at the schools also heard stories told by boarding students, which helped to improve both student relationships and speaking skills. 44% of the children had used elements from the stories in their schoolwork and students’ written skills were reported to have risen significantly. Meanwhile those who were writing with “negative sentiments” declined by 12%.    

These statistics suggest a positive correlation between the “New 1001 Nights” program and students’ life in their dormitory, relationships, and behavior. They were more likely to read and share the stories they heard. The stories also helped their writing skills and enriched their writing materials. For many, listening to the stories become the most enjoyable event on campus. In the past, some students messed around before going to bed. Now they automatically went to bed to wait for the stories to play. This significantly lessened the workload of the teachers!

Professional attitudes, professional work      

When one browses Growing Home’s website, looking through their reports or listening to their teachers, he or she will find that all the programs initiated by Growing Home, including the “New 1001 Nights”, have something in common. Firstly, the logical structure of the programs are very clear. Secondly, they are good at expressing their points using statistics. These two features can be found throughout the entire process of all the programs. From researching and analysis the topic, to the execution and cost-assessment and evaluation.       

According to Du Shuang, the general secretary of Growing Home, they did not possess such a methodology from the start. Since many of the members in their organization have an education or psychology background, when they began to pitch their programs, audiences were confused by their academic jargon and dense research. They gradually realized that a simple, clearer method, combined with professionalism, worked better for publicity and fundraising.

Benefiting from their members’ strong professional background, Growing Home developed effective “learning and reflecting” curves. They exact core ideas when listening to feedback from businesses, foundations, and associates. During this process, they learned that statistics can speak for themselves. It also fits with their “research and action combined” strategy. As a result, during the entire course of all their programs Growing Home concentrates heavily on data collection and analysis.

Having this clear logical structure combined with powerful statistical support greatly helped Growing Home with their crowdfunding. In May 2014, Growing Home partnered with the China Charities Aid Foundation for Children and qualified for united charity fundraising (公众联合劝募资质). In the same month, Growing Home joined with other professional education services to hold their first charity night walk. By recruiting 15 teams and walking 25 km at night in Beijing, they raised money for students in 15 schools in Sichuan, giving them all new opportunities to enjoy bedtime stories. On December 2014, they partnered with the One Way Street Bookstore and launched the “New Year Book Relay” which encouraged the public to buy books as New Year gifts. All the profits from selling the books went directly to the “New 1001 Night” program.

Fundraising events such as this changed the “appeal to sadness” strategy often used by charities. Instead they mobilized the public’s desire to participate. The “New Year Book Relay” went viral on Weibo and Wechat, along with support from celebrities in different fields. Besides being successful fundraising, Growing Home and its program were also introduced to the public via this channel. Concordantly the issues that they dealt with – including those facing rural boarding students – also gained valuable publicity.

Helping rural boarding students to grow

Although the “New 1001 Nights” program had a significant positive result, the power of one organization is not enough to cope with the needs of the huge rural boarding students population. Du Shuang and her team are always concerned with the many children that are not yet covered by the the program. They are constantly exploring ways to improve how to benefit more children and change their dormitory lives from the bottom-up.

In the future Growing Home aims to extend the “New 1001 Nights” program to more schools. As the scale and influence of the program has grown bigger, staff from Growing Home have found that many education departments at the municipal level have taken the initiative to contact them to prepare to implement the program in their areas. Support from government agencies has greatly helped the introduction, execution, and spread of the program. More importantly, government has started to realize the current situation and dilemma of boarding students and exhibited willingness to work with NGOs. In 2015 Growing Home is expecting more co-operation and communication with more government agencies.

Moreover, the China Rural Boarding Students Report produced in January 2015 is also a useful resource for Growing Home. Before the report was published there was no comprehensive research conducted on rural boarding schools. The Report received wide attention from both media and the public. In just half a month, the number of online searches being conducted to find the report rose to 167,000 and hundreds of news articles were published. Major media outlets including Xinhua, Renmin, iFeng, Sina and Tencent all published related news, sparking online discussion.

Du Shuang suggest that after being published in both the Guangming Daily and the People’s Congress Daily, the Report reached many readers who worked in the Ministry of Education and those at higher government levels. Du Shuang has already received good feedback and hopes that government officials can better understand the issues facing rural boarding students situation by reading the report.

Meanwhile, Growing Home also hopes that more professional education services can also conduct research into the huge community of rural boarding students. These assessments would allow the re-evaluation of current policies that cover rural schools.

As a civil society organization, Growing Home does not have the capacity to solve all the problems facing rural boarding students. While constantly exploring new options, Growing Home hopes that government agencies, schools, parents, NGOs and the public will join forces and pay closer attention to the issue, so that in the future all Chinese children will enjoy equal education opportunities and a happy childhood.

To read this on our Chinese website click here.

  1. Growing Home is an education-focused Chinese NGO that was established in 2008. See here for more details (Chinese 

  2. See here for an LA Times article about the Late Show program: 





现状:住校生活并不美好 自2001年《国务院关于基础教育改革与发展的决定》首次提出举办寄宿制学校之后,农村寄宿制学校在全国,特别是西部地区迅速发展。在十多年的撤点并校过程中,37万所学校消失了;基础教育阶段的寄宿制学生数量增至3276万人,近60%是留守儿童;45%的寄宿制学校有一、二年级的超低龄住校生;50%的寄宿制学校里存在着两个孩子共睡一张床的现象;寄宿生的平均身高比同龄孩子低6~8厘米;47.3%的孩子常有负面情绪困扰,63.8%的孩子有孤独感…… 这些数据都来自于2015年1月歌路营发布的《中国农村住校生调查报告》,他们通过走访河北、四川、湖南、云南等地区近百家学校,查阅大量文献后,从多个角度呈现了目前农村住宿制学校的现状和问题。事实上,从2012年歌路营就开始关注农村住宿生这个群体,推出了“新一千零一夜───农村住校生睡前故事公益项目”,希望通过晚间给住校生播放故事,改善学生的身心健康水平、学校归属感、宿舍关系、阅读水平、知识视野等,也希望能通过睡前故事弥补孩子们心理情感的缺失,陪伴他们成长。


行动:一千零一个睡前故事 一个偶然的机会,歌路营的老师们在《朗读手册》中看到了美国康特科斯塔少年监狱大夜秀的故事:少年监狱的志愿者贝蒂·法兰德森通过每晚播睡前故事,使有着严重行为偏差的“问题孩子”减少了攻击行为,增强了适应性和归属感,甚至激发了他们的阅读兴趣。他们深受启发,通过进一步的研究,歌路营还发现故事具有温暖和疗愈孩子心灵的作用,让孩子们看到生活的新的可能性,此外,故事也具有激发想象力、锻炼专注、塑造品格向好的方向发展等多方面的作用。于是,歌路营的老师们想到,为什么不利用每晚睡前的15分钟时间,给孩子们播放一个睡前故事,来丰富他们的住校生活呢?由此,产生了“新一千零一夜”的项目。 项目的实行非常简单,只要在每间宿舍安装一个小喇叭,借助学校原有的电脑和功放,每天晚上在孩子们入睡前,值班老师只要轻轻按下“播放”键,故事就会伴随着孩子们一起入睡。这种简单的模式,不仅满足了孩子们的成长需求,也有效的减轻了值班老师晚间管理的压力。 看似简单的项目,背后却并不简单。考虑到孩子们的年龄段、性别、爱好各不相同,歌路营希望选出的故事可以尽量满足不同孩子的需求。因此,他们将故事精心分类,最终确定为品格哲理、成长疗愈、知识视野、机智冒险、人物励志、校园生活和童话神话这七类。每一个睡前故事都是由专业少儿出版社编辑、学校教育工作者组成的故事开发小组,从数千部儿童文学经典、图书、杂志、网络、新闻等中筛选出来的。这些故事的共同特点是积极正向、适合孩子的心理,并且有足够的吸引力。然后,歌路营的故事编辑会对被选中的故事进行二次编辑,增删到合适的长度,并适当调整情节,让故事更适合孩子们的心理和需要。改编好的故事会由中央人民广播电台乡村之声频道、北京广播电台故事频道专业主持人、中国传媒大学播音系师生和西安、安徽等地专业播音主持人完成录制和灌制工作。审核剪辑完成后,一个睡前故事就诞生了,歌路营的老师们会将这些故事统一编号,发往各个学校,每晚陪伴孩子们。


评估:新一千零一夜不仅仅是故事 截至2014年11月,“新一千零一夜”项目已在全国16省336所学校推广实施,超过70000名农村住校生每晚在故事的陪伴下入眠。项目自开展以来,得到了学校老师和孩子的好评,歌路营也希望可以通过实地的评估进一步了解项目的实际效果和需要改进的地方。于是在2013年4月到2014年4月之间,歌路营对重庆2所学校的235名住校生进行了为期一年的跟踪评估,通过定量评估为主、定性评估为辅的方式,衡量学生住校的成长状况,并通过实验组与对照组前后测度比,探索睡前听故事对学生各项指标的影响。 评估结果显示,97.1%的学生表示喜欢睡前故事;92.8%的学生表示听到了自己喜欢的故事类型;79.7%的学生表示喜欢宿舍生活,比一年前提升了56.6%;88.4%的孩子喜欢上了阅读,这一比例提升了65.2%;68.5%的走读生表示听过住校生为自己讲睡前故事,这非常有助于同学关系的改善以及语言表达能力提升;44%的孩子在写作中会用到睡前故事里的题材,孩子们的写作能力有着明显提升,同时,创作具有负面意义或情绪的作文的学生比例下降了12%。 这些数据都证明“新一千零一夜”项目对学生宿舍生活的喜爱程度、宿舍关系、睡前行为有正向的影响,让学生提高了阅读兴趣,也更愿意和别人交流、分享听到的故事。同时,在孩子们的写作方面起到积极作用,丰富了学生的写作素材,提高写作能力。睡前听故事成了孩子们最喜欢的校园活动,以前在很多学校,学生们睡前总是喜欢打闹磨蹭,现在都会早早的洗漱完毕钻进被窝等待故事的播放,也极大地减轻了生活老师的工作。


项目背后:用专业的态度做专业的事 如果浏览歌路营的网站,查看他们所做的报告,或是听歌路营老师的分享,一定会发现不管是“新一千零一夜”还是歌路营的其他项目,都有着非常明显的特点:一是项目的逻辑框架非常清晰,二是善于“用数据说话”。这两个特点体现在项目的各个环节,从议题的调研、分析和锁定,到具体的干预措施和执行,再到成本预算,项目评估等等。 在和歌路营总干事杜爽的交流中得知,歌路营并不是一开始就带有这样强烈的特点的。因为机构的工作人员大多是教育学或心理学专业背景出身,最初对外介绍机构项目时,往往专业性和学术性过强,开口就是类似“故事的七大好处”等各种研究报告,还没讲几句先把对方整懵了。而在和外界的交流过程中,歌路营逐渐意识到在用专业的态度做项目之外,简洁清晰的方式更有利于对外宣传和筹款。 也正是得力于歌路营团队的专业素养,他们具有极强的学习反思能力。在和企业、基金会甚至自己的朋友的交流过程中,他们从得到的反馈意见中,不断的梳理提炼,整理出项目最核心的逻辑框架。也是在这个过程中,歌路营发现往往数据更具有说服力,这正好与他们“研究和行动相结合”的机构定位很容易就结合起来。因此,在项目的全过程中,不管是前期调研、立项、项目执行、后期评估,歌路营都非常重视数据收集和分析。 清晰的逻辑框架,强大的数据支持,这些也都成为歌路营公众筹款路上的好帮手。2014年5月,歌路营成为中华少年儿童慈善救助基金会“童缘”联合劝募项目的平台伙伴,获得公众联合劝募资质。同月,歌路营与专业教育培训机构新精英联合举办了第一届“为爱走一夜”公益夜行活动,通过招募15支队伍在北京夜行25公里,为四川凉山彝族自治州会理县的15所农村学校的住校生收听睡前故事募集资金。2014年12月,歌路营又联合北京的文化沙龙单向空间,发起“送留守儿童1001个故事”新年送书接力活动,通过倡导公众重拾读书的乐趣,购买带有新年祝愿的书籍作为新年礼物送给身边的人,将卖书所得收益捐赠给“新一千零一夜”项目。 这些筹款行动,一改公益筹款常走的“苦情”路线,而是选择积极调动公众参与的热情。“新年送书接力活动”更是在推出后迅速得到不同领域的几十位名人的支持,借用微博、微信等平台得到了大量的转发和关注。筹集善款之外,很好的向公众介绍了歌路营和“新一千零一夜”项目,也使农村住宿生这个群体走到了更多人面前,得到了更广泛的关注。


倡导:让更多农村住宿生更好地成长 虽然“新一千零一夜”项目取得了显著的效果,但是一家机构的力量和中国目前庞大农村住宿生群体数量相比还是杯水车薪,杜爽和她的团队同样也在担忧那些暂时没有被“新一千零一夜”项目覆盖的住宿制学校中的孩子们。如何让更多孩子受益,如何从根本的层面改善这些孩子的住校生活,是她们一直在探索的。 首先,歌路营依然会将工作重点放在在更广泛的范围内推广“新一千零一夜”项目上。因为随着项目本身规模和影响力的扩大,歌路营的老师们欣喜地发现,慢慢开始有一些地市级或是县级的教育相关部门,主动联系歌路营,愿意购买他们的“新一千零一夜”项目产品,希望在自己行政管辖范围内开展该项目。政府相关部门给予的信任和支持,使项目的落地、执行和推广变得更顺利,更重要的是,政府部门也开始意识到农村住宿生所面临的现状和困境,并愿意和NGO合作。在2015年春节过后的新学期里,歌路营希望有机会和更多政府部门进行沟通合作,共同改善农村住宿生的住校生活品质。 此外,2015年1月发布的《中国农村住校生调查报告》也是歌路营新的开展政策倡导的“秘密武器”。在此之前,国内并没有一份系统的关于农村住宿制学校问题的研究报告,而这份报告一经发布,得到了众多媒体和公众的关注,短短半个月时间,关于“农村住宿生调查报告”的百度搜索频率就很快飙升至167000个,相关新闻条目达数百条(数据来源于百度搜索)。新华网、人民网、凤凰网、新浪、腾讯等各大主流门户网站都刊登相关新闻报道,引发网民关注和讨论。 杜爽称,刊登关于这份报告新闻的《光明日报》内参已经定向发放给相关教育部门和各省负责教育的副省长处;《人民政协报》也刊登了相关报道,并发放给全国政协委员。目前,歌路营已经得到一些反馈,杜爽希望能有关注农村教育问题的政协委员通过这份报告更深入地了解农村住宿生的现状。歌路营也表示会持续关注即将召开的2015年“两会”,期待关于农村住宿生的议题被提出和讨论。 同时,歌路营希望能有更多教育领域有影响力的的专业评估机构愿意关注农村住宿生这个群体,进行更多更全面的RCT(Randomized Controlled Trial,随机对照试验)评估,客观呈现寄宿制学校目前存在的问题,重新审视撤点并校和寄宿制学校的价值和影响,能从更多层面去影响政府对农村教育问题的政策策略。 作为一家民间机构,仅凭歌路营自己的力量很难从根本上解决这些农村住宿生面临的问题,除了不断探索自己还能做什么,歌路营也希望能有更多的政府部门、学校、家长、机构和公众联合起来,共同关注农村住宿生问题,让每一个孩子都能享受到平等的教育,每一个孩子都能拥有一个快乐的童年。

CDB Staff Writer

Translated by Zach Lei Zhou

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