Yorkshire volunteers sought to help charity tackle 'scandal' of children struggling to read

The summer holidays may now be in full swing but parents are being urged to make sure their children don't abandon reading over the six-week break. Chris Burn reports.

Beanstalk helps children develop the vital life-skill of reading.

As school children across Yorkshire settle into their summer holiday routine, a national literacy charity is reminding parents that encouraging a love of reading is not just a job for teachers in the classroom.

Beanstalk is calling on parents and children to continue reading through the six-week break to prevent a decline in reading progress – as the organisation looks to recruit new volunteers across Yorkshire to help youngsters who are struggling with the vital life-skill.

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Education Minister Damian Hinds warned earlier this week of the “scandal” of children arriving at school being unable to speak or read properly. “When you are behind from the start you rarely catch up,” he said. “Your peers don’t wait, the gap just widens. This has a huge impact on social mobility.”

Beanstalk is one of the organisations trying to do something on exactly this issue, with the charity aiming to transform children’s life chances by recruiting and supporting volunteers and placing them in local primary schools.

These volunteers work with children who have either fallen behind with their reading, lack confidence, or struggle with their fluency, comprehension or vocabulary.

During the summer the charity will be recruiting new volunteers to attend training sessions in Leeds, Bradford and Doncaster to ensure enough reading helpers are ready to be placed in schools from September for children that need extra help.

Sessions are planned in Leeds on August 31, Bradford on September 3 and Doncaster on September 6.

Once they have completed their training and gone through the relevant checks, each volunteer spends 30 minutes, twice a week, with the same three children in a nearby primary school for a whole academic year.

Ginny Lunn, chief executive officer at Beanstalk, says: “Children who having been making steady progress during term time and don’t read during the six week break can find they really struggle when they return to school.

“This means they start the new academic year at a disadvantage, which can really knock their confidence and affect their learning.

“Our volunteers deliver one-to-one reading support to primary school children that do fall behind, however, continuing to read regularly at home really helps to ‘exercise’ their reading skills and ensures that when they do go back in September they have the confidence to continue with their reading.”

The charity says reading does not have to involve reading a book from cover to cover and given that the summer break should be a time to get outdoors and be active, there are many ways that reading can be incorporated into activities such as days out, sports and other hobbies.

Simple opportunities can include reading the signs at the zoo, taking part in an outdoor treasure hunt, doing activities such as word searches and reading jokes on a rainy day.

Ginny adds: “We also support children participating in the Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge which is available across public libraries.

“It’s a great way to encourage children to work towards reading goals in return for rewards. The important thing is to be guided by the children, to ensure that they are reading for pleasure and fun.”

Last year, Beanstalk, which provides one-to-one support to children aged three to 13 in a variety of ways, helped 11,000 children in 1,300 primary schools across England through 3,000 volunteers.

To book a place on the local volunteer training course, visit www.beanstalkcharity.org.uk, or call 0845 450 0307.