Following a recommendation by the Club's Community Service Committee earlier this year, the Club agreed to support the Learning Partnerships Literacy Volunteer Programme with 'hands-on' help for primary school children learning to read. At an initial training session held in Leeds city centre on 2nd May 2013, it was explained to the Club members and other volunteers that many of the children we would be asked to work with receive little or no reading support at home, in some cases because English may not be spoken at home or where parent / carers own basic skills may not be sufficient to provide the help and support their children need.
Since that initial training session, members of the Leeds Elmete club have attended weekly reading sessions at Grange Farm Primary School and White Laithes Primary School. Each volunteer has been allocated, usually two or three 7 and 8 years olds, with whom they spend a period of up to half an hour each providing one-to-one support and guidance. None of the volunteers are qualified teachers and instead our involvement focuses on listening to the children read, helping them with new and unfamiliar words, ensuring that they have an understanding of what they are reading and most significantly providing words of encouragement and praise - the sort of things that many of us took for granted when we were the same age and making our first ventures into the world of books and which we provided to our own children when they were a similar age and learning how to read.
Our work with the children is extremely self-satisfying as we have seen the children develop not only their reading skills but with it their self confidence and esteem. This was brought home to all the volunteers when at the final reading session prior to the Christmas holiday break, we were greeted at the door of the school by the children we have been helping, holding out Christmas cards which they had made themselves, each containing 'special messages' of thanks.
In terms of true 'Community Service', in terms of providing practical help where it is needed, this has been an excellent and very worthwhile project.
Helping Children with Reading.
Early last year a young lady, Gail Clarke, came to talk to our Club. Gail represented a charity called "Learning Partnerships". The function of the charity is to place adults, working or retired, into schools for one hour a week to help young children to improve their reading and their understanding of written works. There is an added side effect in that some of the children do not have the same comfortable home-life as us, and so to have someone's full attention for a short time is beneficial.
A few of us volunteered. The usual checks had to be made to ensure our "suitability" and then on to a three hour training session. Not really "training" more explaining the basics of reading, and, of course, 'Health and Safety' particularly remembering we would be dealing with young children.
And so off to school - in my case White Laith Primary in the Whinmoor area of Leeds - a small school of approximately 200 pupils aged from 5 to 11 (don't get me started with school year numbers!). Our Organiser at school is Helen - Deputy Head teacher - and our one hour session each week is on Thursdays. In our school, there are 5 volunteers. We are allocated six or seven pupils whose reading is at various levels, but all are past the first stage of grasping letters. We listen to them read two or three pages of their own choice of book, sometimes reading a page ourselves and seeing if they understand what they have just read. Most do. I have to say that the hour absolutely flies by. The children are lovely; yes they can be a bit naughty, but don't you wish you had their energy and innocence?
Some of the problems: You do not realise (or I didn't) how difficult it can be for children to see words with a similar spelling but have a different pronunciation? Cough, rough and bough come to mind, but there seem to be a lot like this. Pronunciation is another battle, a little problem etc., so that the 't' has to be emphasised - until you get to "duvet"! You can imagine the problems with words like husband and others.
You get to know the children, so it is not just about the reading. There is a bit of fun and chatter in between. I informed one child that her second name should begin with a 'p' - for 'pest'- all in good humour. The smiles on the children's faces are a delight to see.
As I said to Gail recently, (see keeps an overview of us), we would not turn up each week if we did not enjoy it.
Rotarian Alastair Henderson, Past President (1996-7), Club Treasurer.
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