Happiness is….helping a child learn to love reading

Ladybird Marketing Manager Nicola volunteers at a local primary school to help support those children who are struggling to read. She shares her experience – and top tips – with us…

Not every child finds it easy to love reading and for some, it’s a real struggle.  So, for the past couple of years I’ve been going to a local primary school once a week to read with a little girl who’s found learning to read a bit tougher than most. 

I do this through a fantastic scheme that has been set up Pearson (Ladybird’s parent company) and made possible through the volunteering and training charity CSV.  I have to say, it’s without a doubt the best hour of my working week!  It can be heartbreaking and frustrating at times, but it’s an immensely rewarding thing to do that will hopefully make a real difference to a child’s academic future.

I first met my little girl when she was five years old, in her first term of Year 1.  Most of her class had a pretty firm grasp of phonics by this stage but she was really struggling to recognise even the most basic words and sounds.  She’s quite shy and English is her second language so she probably didn’t have the confidence to ask for help.  Plus, as I’ve found out, she’s very easily distracted so being in a class with thirty other children is just a bit too interesting for her…

Because she had such a short attention span, we started off just trying to read a couple of pages of a book, breaking things up into manageable chunks.  As soon as her attention wandered I would start to make a game out of the book.  I’d ask her questions like ‘How many times can you find the word tree/dog/dad in the book?’ or ‘Which is your favourite picture?’ or ‘Who was wearing the red dress?’  It made it a bit less of a relentless chore for her.  I also realised that if we played a game such as flashcards or pairs she suddenly found it much easier to identify words, simply because it was a game and she was engaged with the competitiveness of it all.

The Three Little Pigs
A big turning point came when I introduced her to fairytales and I’m now slightly evangelical about the power of fairytales as a result!  I wanted her to experience a real story rather than one constructed around a particular phonic aim.  As soon as we started reading about Cinderella, Goldilocks and The Three Little Pigs, reading just came alive for her, it was amazing to see.  She read confidently, concentrated and most of all enjoyed the book.  What a revelation!  I used Ladybird Read it yourself and we’re now on level 3.

And my final tip is that I try to make each time we read a bit of an occasion.  We’ll start with a chat about our week, read a book, play a game and then decorate her reading folder with a new sticker.  I make sure I give her lots of praise even if she’s had a difficult session and we’ll usually ‘high five’ when we’ve finished a book.  Hmmm, very cool…
Gradually over the last couple of years she really has improved and I’m so proud of her.  Of course, a large part of this will be down to the fantastic work the teachers do but hopefully our time together has also made a real difference. I’m lucky working in Ladybird because I’ve access to lots of different books and plenty of people with expertise on reading.  I found some of the following advice and downloads on our site invaluable.



Like to read more? Click here to read an earlier post on The Ladybird Blog, where editor Ellen considers the importance of fairy tales for today's children.

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