17 April 2018

Trained reading helpers have begun supporting children in Wirral nurseries and pre-schools as part of the new Story Starters reading programme. The project involves volunteers from the local community visiting local early years settings twice a week to help children aged three to five become ready to read.

Isobel is among the very first Story Starter reading helpers in England and has begun working with children at an early years setting in Wirral supported by Beanstalk - a national children’s literacy charity which recruits, trains and supports volunteers to work one-to-one with children aged 3 to 13 in a variety of ways, turning them into confident, passionate and able readers.

Isobel supports three pre-schoolers one-to-one, two times a week for 20 minutes at a time. The sessions are fun, interactive and hugely beneficial to the children receiving extra support.

Isobel’s story in her own words:

“I retired at the end of August 2017 and I wanted to continue to lead a purposeful life that provided a new direction and a sense of achievement. I have always enjoyed reading with children and helping them to develop not only their appreciation of books and stories, but also their language skills, their imagination and their own sense of being. I researched voluntary reading organisations and became interested in the support that Beanstalk provides.

The best bit about volunteering as a Story Starter is witnessing the children’s engagement, and seeing their shyness disappear as they develop their confidence. It is a slow process, but worthwhile.

One of the three children I support is painfully shy, and cannot enunciate very well. Last week she managed to say the word ‘referee’ very clearly (we were reading Peppa Plays Football).  She always tries to say new words, and I praise her every time. The Teaching Assistant reported that she is really benefitting from the one-to-one support that she receives.

They are all accepting of the time we spend together. I go into the nursery’s main room at the appointed times, and to date, each child has willingly left the activity they have been engaged in, and come with me. I have a selection of four books laid out, and they choose which story they would like. Some days each child will fully engage with the story and the aids, for example, the hand puppet, kitchen rolls for telescopes, assorted building blocks, animals and figures that I have collected to aid the experience. Sometimes they lose focus, but we maintain a continual dialogue. To date the three children all seem to be comfortable and happy.

If you have an affinity with young children, enjoy reading and interacting with very young children, then the Story Starter role provides an ideal platform to put your abilities to good use!

Story Starters is a new collaborative project between children’s literacy charity Beanstalk, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and LuCid (University of Liverpool) which was launched in London last year and aims to give children the support they need to develop their language and reading skills. Research has shown that children who benefit from high-quality support in their early years start school on average three months ahead in their literacy and language skills, compared with children who don’t.

Christine Braithwaite is the Area Manager for Beanstalk in the North West of England:

“Beanstalk is thrilled to have our first Story Starter volunteers making such a positive impact in Wirral and across Merseyside. We know how important it is for children in the early years of their education to receive support with their language development, as this enables them to start primary school ready to read and able to thrive. It is really worrying to hear recent figures that the proportion of toddlers being read to every day is in decline - a significant threat to child development. We are now seeking more people to come forward as volunteers and we have our next Story Starters training and selection day coming up so please get in touch with Beanstalk if you would like to volunteer and change the lives of children in the community.”

Volunteers are also needed for Beanstalk’s 321 reading programme which already successfully runs in a number of schools across the North West of England and has been making a positive impact on children’s reading confidence and ability. This involves volunteers supporting three primary school aged children (aged 5-11), two times a week for 30 minutes in a local primary school for one academic year. One-to-one sessions enable the reading helper to tailor each session to the child’s specific needs and to pass on the magic of stories and books. 

To find out more about becoming a Story Starter volunteer or a reading helper in a local primary school, please: