29 November 2018

By Peter Woodman 

Look at pictures of Beanstalk volunteers helping children with their reading and invariably the helper is a woman. 

But there are men who are Beanstalk reading helpers. I should know. I’m one of them. One of the few. 

Beanstalk would like to have more male reading helpers. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it so far, so would heartily recommend volunteering to men who have the time. 

What I can tell them is that being a reading helper is fun. Loads of fun. I started in November 2017 and had almost a full school year helping three second-year pupils at a London school. 

Now I’m just about to start at another London school. This time I’ll be helping two year six pupils and one year five pupil.  

It could be that some pupils may find being helped by a man is a bit of a novelty. Most primary school teachers are women and it could be that if children are read to at home it may be the mother rather than the father who does it.  

Novelty or not, I’d like to think my children enjoyed their sessions during 2017-18. When we started my three pupils were all OK with the simple one-syllable words but struggled with the longer words. 

At first, there seemed to be little improvement. But gradually, after a few weeks, they all became more fluent. They enjoyed the games too, being happy to play the Boggle word-game and to create their own words using Scrabble tiles. 

Each child presented me with different challenges. One had a very short attention span and could hardly sit still. But he was a sharp little character who soon made good progress with his reading. 

Another, a six-year-old girl, spoke little English at home and was painfully shy. But she came alive during the card games (she always seemed to win!) and by the end of the year was chatting happily and, most importantly, reading better. 

The third child began by taking wild guesses at the longer words and not making much progress. But then, suddenly, during one session everything seemed to click into place and his reading took off. 

At the end of the summer term, this child asked me if I was going to carry on reading with him the following school year. I told him he didn’t need me anymore as he was doing fine on his own. 

I was thrilled when he wrote a note to me saying: “Thank you for teaching me to read. I have enjoyed reading to you.” Well, I enjoyed having him read to me, too. 

After assisting with pupils aged six going on seven last year, helping older children at my new school will be a challenge. I’ll have to try out new books and new games while getting to know their interests. 

What I hope I can do for them is give them the sort of one-to-one time that’s just not possible in a class of 25-30 pupils. 

Hopefully, I can also give them a fun half-hour twice a week and instil in them a love of reading and books. 

Peter is a Beanstalk reading helper in London. If you would like to find about becoming a volunteer with us and inspiring children to read and love books, find out more.