Volunteer Reading Help - one to one reading support for primary aged children

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This article comes from the 2008 National Year of Reading's Help with Reading Volunteering Guide published by the 2008 National Year of Reading in October 2008.

A volunteer for Volunteer Reading Help providing reading support

Volunteer Reading Help (VRH) is a national organisation that provides quality one-to-one reading support for primary age children through a network of volunteer reading helpers. Julie Nixon, Director of services, explains how its team of 1500 dedicated reading helpers is working hard to change the lives of 4000 children in the UK each week.

70 per cent of children excluded from schools have basic literacy difficulties. These children may end up being the teenagers who behave antisocially in your local community. In 2006, half the prison population in England and Wales had serious problems with reading. There is a direct link between poor literacy and social exclusion. As reading helpers, our volunteers could be helping to break that cycle by giving a child a chance to flourish and reach their full potential before these problems take hold.

Our reading helpers are diverse and bring their skills and love of reading to the many children they help. And the reading helpers benefit enormously too: not only is every session rewarding in itself, but many find their experience of volunteering helps them develop their skills.

Based on their experience at VRH, some volunteers take up the accredited training options we offer; others decide to return to work or may retrain as classroom assistants.

Once they have applied to be a reading helper, been interviewed, had an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau check and been trained, they are placed in a school. The teacher will refer three children she or he thinks will most benefit from additional attention and support.

The children may lack confidence or have poor self esteem, and they may find it difficult to communicate in class. Most will not enjoy reading and find it difficult. Some have difficult family lives and little parental involvement or interest in their education. Some may live in families where English is an additional language.

Once the children are selected the reading helpers work with each child individually for half an hour twice a week. This will continue for a minimum of one school year to ensure continuity for the children. Reading helpers receive comprehensive training, ongoing support and resources including books and games. The children love spending time with their reading helpers. For some, it is often the only real individual attention they will receive from an adult. At VRH we tackle the problem in its infancy. We have found that an hour of individual dedicated, positive time each week can:

  • change a child’s perception of their ability
  • ensure improved achievement in the classroom
  • improve their social interaction
  • develop better motivation towards learning generally
  • cut levels of truancy

VRH reading helpers are very special people. Through their time and dedication, they are helping to transform the lives of children.

Time for Children

A volunteer providing reading support for primary age children

VRH is supporting children in care with the expansion of our Time for Children service. Children in care are some of the most vulnerable in our society. They are shockingly over represented in unemployment figures, street homelessness, teenage pregnancy and mental health statistics.

The VRH Time for Children service provides invaluable one-to-one support, often in school, for children aged five to 15 who live in care and foster homes. We aim to improve their choices and chances in life by helping to develop their literacy skills and providing them with a mentor and attentive adult in their lives. Reading helpers who volunteer for this service have additional awareness training on the types of issues and problems that children in care may be facing.

We inspire children and young people in public care to gain a love of reading which they will have for the rest of their lives. We work in partnership with social services, schools and carers to ensure our service is the best for each individual child. By building their confidence through reading, we want to ensure no child is forgotten.

The service currently operates in Manchester, Oldham, Blackburn and Darwen, Rochdale, Bury, Kent, Walsall and Dudley. Time for Children is part funded by the Big Lottery in specific areas until March 2010.

“People think that if you are in care you are different from everybody else. That is wrong. We just need to be given the same opportunities and chances as everyone else.”

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