Friday, 13 November 2015

Hurrah for Beanstalk

Amicia De Moubray celebrates the excellent national literacy charity Beanstalk

Written by Amicia De Moubray
Can you imagine not being able to read? What can life be like for those who struggle on a daily basis to decipher words and letters?

It is both an astonishing and also a desperately sad fact that every year some 63,000 children across England leave primary school unable to read to the expected level. If you are wondering what happens to these children the following statistics says it all:
• One in four young offenders have a reading age below the average seven year old.
• Almost half the young people arrested in the 2011 riots were unable to read or write at the age of eleven.
• 60% of the prisoner population are unable to read or fill out even the simplest job application form.

So hurrah for the excellent national literacy charity Beanstalk. Set up over forty years ago, the charity trains reading helpers to go into primary schools to help children learn to read. What could be more worthwhile? And as volunteering roles go, it only takes three hours (plus a bit of travel time) each week.

Each volunteer is assigned three children and interacts with each child for two 30 minute sessions twice a week for the minimum of three terms. What a difference this one-to-one support can make - as I can testify. Two years ago I signed up to become a reading helper in a school on the outskirts of Ashford, Kent. Initially I felt slightly nervous as I wondered how I would ever begin to engage with each child, how could I possibly help them and most of all what would they be like individually. I need not have worried. It is an extraordinarily rewarding role. In a class of thirty plus children, only three are read to at home. I suspect that many of them have more electronic gadgets than books in their homes.

As well as reading it is important to try and stretch their imaginations by getting them to enjoy the often very beautifully drawn pictures and well written stories. I do this by asking them what they think is going to happen on the next page. All great fun for both child and reading helper.

The Beanstalk training is not onerous, just a couple of days, but very useful. The charity's staff are extraordinarily helpful and continue to offer support after the training programme if one needs it, as well as organising 'book swaps' and morning sessions to meet other volunteers. I have found these to be very worthwhile as inevitably everyone shares experiences and you learn tips by listening to other volunteers.

The Beanstalk format is to spend the first quarter of an hour or so playing games with the child such as snakes and ladders, dominos, Top Trumps or snap (Beanstalk provides the games and the books). This is invaluable in building the child's trust as well as being confidence-boosting, particularly if you can let the child win. Then I try and get the child to read. Often they say 'I can't read'. I find it is best to start slowly, reading the majority of words and asking them to read simple ones such as 'and' or 'not', slowly building up their prowess.

Being a Beanstalk reading helper and seeing the change in the children I support is really rewarding and it's a pleasure to be involved. I'd encourage anyone who has the time to apply to become a reading helper too! If you think you can spare three hours a week, do contact Beanstalk and become a reading helper. You won't regret it.

Beanstalk operates in the following areas:
• Greater London
• Kent
• Greater Manchester
• West Yorkshire
• North Lincolnshire
• Merseyside and the Wirral
• Durham and the Tees Valley
• Birmingham and the Black Country
• Northamptonshire
• Bedfordshire
• Shropshire
• Staffordshire
and are about to launch in Somerset.

93% of the children that Beanstalk support make improvements in their reading ability. Some 74% by at least two reading sub-levels.

To find your nearest office – go onto the Beanstalk website and enter your postcode in the Area Office finder.
Your placement will be in a school within 5 miles of your home or work, supporting children aged between 5 and 11 years of age.

To volunteer visit or calling 020 7729 4087.

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