Caroline Bixer reveals how charities Beanstalk and Save the Children are working together to improve children’s reading to give them a better start.

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A girl reads with a female reading helper from Beanstalk

Towards the end of our session, nine-year-old Sam asks if I can stay on a little longer. In a special assembly, his class are showing their work to parents, but Sam’s cannot attend.

So, sitting on a hard bench in the hall of a north London primary school that still smells faintly of lunch, I listen to Sam’s two lines. And, in front of all his peers, he reads aloud – clearly, fluently and confidently. It is a breakthrough moment.

Like all the best ideas, Beanstalk’s is simple — children struggling with reading benefit from regular, individual attention. So the literacy charity sends in volunteers who can commit to going into a local primary school twice a week during term time.

Each volunteer for Beanstalk – which is a member of the Jewish Volunteering Network – works with the same three children for the year – and each child has a 30-minute, one-to-one session.

Little girl smiling with reading helperAs a volunteer, I have had the pleasure of witnessing ‘my children’ develop from hesitant to competent readers. There have been many other breakthrough moments. A couple of weeks ago, 10-year-old Khirad wrote down not just the book’s page number for next session, but also – in capitals and underlined – Can’t Wait! She had made the discovery that — as well as being essential — reading can be exciting.

Sometimes a little patience and ingenuity is needed. Sam’s reading really took off with a Raymond Briggs cartoon — he was finding pages of writing, with no pictures, just too daunting.

And fellow volunteer, Jim, discovered newspaper football reports engaged the interest of one young sports fan. The short, but rigorous, Beanstalk training equips every volunteer to find different ways of doing this

Sadly, for different reasons, so many children are not being read to – or with – at home. And teachers with large classes and/or children whose first language is not English simply do not have the time.

Beanstalk – currently in partnership with the charity Save the Children – makes this precious 30 minutes possible.

To find out about volunteering with Beanstalk, visit http://www.beanstalkcharity.org.uk or call the central office on 020 7729 4087

*Some names have been changed in this article