As a child, I liked to read with my grandmother. I remember her soft voice which opened a door to another reality for me, a fairy-tale land filled with characters I still love. One time when I was sick in bed with high temperature and couldn’t sleep all night, she read my favorite Peter Pen twice to me, and I think that was the main reason I felt better in the morning.
So when in July Open Books was looking for Book Buddies volunteers, I grabbed the opportunity to pay back all the time that my grandmother invested in teaching me to love the printed word. Book Buddies is a weekly literacy program the main purpose of which is to help boost students’ reading skills and add to their confidence about reading. Twice each week, volunteers read together with two Little Buddies in 30-minute segments. The program usually runs for a semester, but that time it was just for the month of July.
My Little Buddy was a first – grader Angel (it’s the cutest name ever, isn’t it?:). Now, it is crucial to build a relationship when working with kids of such a delicate age from day one. Open Books assisted in this by giving the students a survey to fill out about themselves at the beginning of the program. That’s how I learned Angel and I shared passion for soccer. Needless to say that the books that I chose for him to read were mainly about sport. Also, prior to the program, Open Books assessed the students’ reading levels. It made it really easy to choose the appropriate books. All the books brought to the site had labels on them with a difficulty level indication.
If any of you plan on reading with young children, these are the main points to consider in my opinion:
1. Build phonemic awareness and phonics (connection between letters and sounds). When you encounter an unfamiliar word, you can sound it out together or use a picture to give a clue to the word. Rhyming is also a great tool with young kids.
2. Make sure the children comprehend what they read. Ask them to retell the story in their own words. Prior to reading the book, build a background – ask them what they think the book will be about. Also, let them make predictions as you read.
3. Build their vocabulary. Challenge them to use new word in a sentence later in the day.
4. Work on their fluency. Read a book which was difficult for them couple of times.
And, of course, don’t forget to praise them for the progress they are making. Try to avoid the cliché “Good Job” though. Instead, try these phrases:
1. Praise for doing something right:
“I like the way you…”
“I had fun… today!”
“You should feel very proud of yourself for…”
“You learn so fast!”
“I really enjoyed working with you today because…”
“You are a great reader because…”
2. Encouraging a Struggling Reader:
“Great try at…”
“Don’t worry, you’ ll … next time!”
“Don’t give up on …! You’ ve almost mastered it!”
“You are getting better and better at… every day! You’ ve just got to keep trying!”
I can’t stress enough the support I had from Open Books site leaders and Program Directors! They were always around if volunteers had any questions and provided encouragement to Little Buddies. Open Books used Student Progress sheets that volunteers were required to fill out to track anything they could help with to make each session smoother.
Finally, nothing can compare to a child’s gratefulness and words like: “You are the coolest adult ever!” At the end of the program, the kids were asked to make the volunteers pictures or cards. This is what Angel made for me:
It’s us playing soccer. Unfortunately, I lose…J
In September I started Book Buddies program again at Mitchell Elementary School. This time it ran for a semester and involved third-graders. There are a few more things that I learned about reading with kids:
– If you are reading with two or more children, try acting scenes out(role-playing). It will make reading fun and prevent the kids from being bored waiting for their turn to read.
– Since the program ran for a few months, we could implement a system of encouragement for the Little Buddies. They got a sticker for every session they attended, and could redeem ten stickers for a free book of their choice. Sometimes I gave two stickers for one session if my Little Buddy went over the page goal we set up at the beginning of the session. That made my Little Buddies super excited!!!:)