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Reading Zone



Our Reading Projects

In the UK’s most deprived communities up to 60% of 11 year olds fail to reach the basic standards in reading and writing.

Following the success of our pilot reading programme, Lets Read and with the support of Surrey Community Foundation, Woking Borough Council and our volunteer tutors have been providing free reading courses to school children in local Infant, Primary and Special Need Schools.

In 2009/2010 in partnership with Head Teachers of our schools we started reading courses in four Schools.

To date nearly 400 young people have benefited from attending our reading projects.

  • With just 30 hours of teaching the average reading ages have been improved by more than two years and in some star students by more than three years.
  • All of our tutors are volunteers; DBS checked, and trained to deliver our reading courses.
  • We use a synthetic phonics approach* which is an inclusive, structured,  modular system based on learning the sounds of both individual and groups of letters, which can then be read together to enable the accurate reading of almost any word in the English Language.

The development of our Reading Projects has been greatly assisted by Ruth Miskin (Read Write Inc) and Irina Tyk (Butterfly Phonics)

Our aim is to support all under 11's to bring their reading ages up to that of their peers so that they may be able to fully access secondary curriculum. In addition any students who are struggling to keep up with their schools through poor literacy.

Reading to Children

by Kathleen Chia -Author and Let's Read Volunteer

When we can read, it is often something we take for granted and so we do not even think about - or can’t remember -  how we leaned to do it or what it involves for our children. Learning to read is not only about being able to work out what words say (decoding skills) but being able to take meaning from them (understanding or comprehension). Both are important. If a child can ‘read’ or decode words but does not know what they mean because they are not in his spoken vocabulary or part of his experience, reading will not be a satisfying, meaningful process. Usually when a child enters school the focus is on decoding skills but the process of learning to take meaning from pictures and words begins well in advance of that, and all research suggests that parents who read to their children play a vital role in this part of the process. There is truth in the old saying:

‘You may have tangible wealth untold

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold,

Richer than I you will never be -

I had a mother who read to me.’

Stricklan Gillilan(1869-1954)

Of course it does not have to be mother: a father, a grandparent or any other adult or an older child will do. It is particularly valuable for boys to have a father or father figure who reads and reads to them, as young children so often have more females in their lives and some boys begin to see reading as ‘girlie’ if they only see women doing it. Consequently they are turned off reading. For parents, reading a book with a child can be a very special time of bonding and sharing something enjoyable together. When a parent reads to a small child, it also communicates to the child that reading is important. These are very good reasons for having a book reading routine from young – often called the bedtime story routine. Books can be shared at any time, but bedtimes are times for winding down and having cuddles – and reading a story fits well here. If possible start before the child begins moving around, so that he will associate books with sitting, looking and participating by touching and imitating.

So what is this richness that reading to children provides? Well, if it is handled well, it can be the beginning of a lifelong enjoyment of books and reading, as children  associate reading with pleasure and emotional satisfaction and are motivated to try to read themselves. It can lead to a fascination with words, their sounds and meanings, stretching children’s vocabulary. It can introduce them to different genres or types of material – stories, rhymes, poems, folk tales, information books - that expand their knowledge and horizons and engage their imagination. It makes them aware of book language – once upon a time…a long time ago… lived happily ever after… the end…that they can imitate in their own story telling and later in their story writing. The list goes on…

But how specifically do parents reading to children help them in the process of understanding what they hear and see in books? Some research by Shirley Brice-Heath , a literacy researcher in the USA, who wrote an article entitled, What No Bedtime Story Means, throws light on this. She lived and worked in a number of different communities, where children experienced differing levels of success in school and she tried to ascertain what made the difference. In one she calls Mainstream, the bedtime story was the norm, in another, Trackton, there was no such routine and in a third, Roadville, it was very limited because parents placed more emphasis on teaching children rather than reading to them. She found that where children experienced being read to, they were more likely to be successful in school later on.

What did the parents do that was helpful? She found that they helped children with understanding what pictures and words mean. First of all, children need to be able to make sense of pictures. Pictures are flat but they represent real objects. Children have to learn to recognise this. Adults helped by labelling and comparing with the real object. ‘Banana’ (pointing to a picture on a page) ‘Like the banana you had for breakfast’.  This helps the child to make connections and attach meaning. Similarly with words:  ‘The dog’s name is Spot (pointing to the word). See the spot on his eye (pointing to the picture of the spot over the dog’s eye and so helping the child to understand the word), You have spots on your curtains’ (relating to the child’s own life experience). Adults also directed children’s attention by pointing, ‘Look at the dog!’ or by asking questions, ‘What’s that?’ In this way, children learn to listen, focus attention, label and give responses and explanations. Shirley Brice-Heath found that in doing these things parents helped their children to develop understanding of what they were seeing and hearing. These are important skills that prepare children for a successful start in school.

As children moved from looking at simple books that have one or more objects on a page to story books, there was some discussion around the story. ‘What part did you like best?’ ‘What would you do if you were the crocodile?’ ‘Do you think that was a good thing to do?’ This involves children thinking, giving their opinions and often using their imagination and creativity. These are more sophisticated or higher order skills that are important in further developing reading comprehension and writing skills.

If as parents, we adopt these practices, we can really help our children.

Some important additional tips include:

  • Keeping the sessions short and enjoyable – let the child ask for more
  • Making the sessions interactive – the child asks and you ask
  • Being prepared  for repeats of the same story - children don’t get bored with them
  • With story books, reading and talking about the story
  • Letting the child take the lead in pointing out letters or words - don’t emphasise  teaching
  • Going for variety but allowing for favourites– libraries, schools and websites can help you in selecting books. Don’t major on alphabet books and books about TV/ media characters.

Let’s Read acknowledges the importance of both aspects of reading. It supports  children in trying to decode the written word using a synthetic phonics programme and provides children with exciting books to take home which they can enjoy as they try to make sense of the story. Although the volunteers do make time for story reading, they cannot provide the early experiences or one-to-one attention that a parent can give and thus reap the full benefit of what has been talked about here.

For other suggestions try the following:

101Ways to get your Child to Read by Patience Thomson (2009), especially Chapter 6 : Choosing the right book. (Quick Reads /Barrington Stokes  £1.99)

go to Family Reading – advice for families

Brice Heath, Shirley (1982): What No Bedtime Story Means.


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