We asked children's author Jemma Hatt, to tell us how she has been getting on as a Coram Beanstalk reading helper during the first half-term of the school year. Here's her diary to give you a feel for what the role entails and how much of an impact our one-to-one support can have.

14th September 

Today was my first day back in the new school year. I’ve been volunteering as a Reading Helper since January, and over the summer holidays I had a call with a member of the Coram Beanstalk team to talk about my experiences so far and how to go about arranging my return to school this autumn. 

I’m keeping one of my readers from last term and meeting two new children.  

After a meeting with the Inclusion Manager, I used the Coram Beanstalk volunteer pack to get to know my new students and break the ice with some book-related games.  

Two of the children are aged 8, and aren’t quite readers yet. Lots of children don’t have any reading time at home. There are practical reasons why children from lower income families tended to be more affected by the 2020-2021 lockdowns, such as lack of books at home and parents who weren’t able to help with remote schooling. Plus, in some families, children aren’t spoken to in English at home. Charities like Coram Beanstalk are helping to bridge the huge gap in opportunity. 

My third student, aged 10, can read fairly fluently, but has no interest in books and doesn’t enjoy reading. My challenge is going to be finding reading material that she enjoys. 


21st September 

The two 8-year-olds both enjoyed being read to. It was encouraging that one selected the same book for us to read again this week – Once Upon an Ordinary School Day by Colin McNaughton. He really engages with the story and pictures. 

It is a little tricky to pick books with the 10-year-old. Anything with lots of words is an instant turn-off, but the subject matter of most picture books doesn’t interest her. We read some of Tom Gates this week and will try a graphic novel next week.  

28th September 

The 10-year-old has requested that I bring in one of my own books next week. I’ve never wanted to push my own books during my volunteering sessions, but she doesn’t believe that I’m really a children’s author and wants to see some evidence! 


5th October 

Great reading sessions this week with all three children! 

I’m building more rapport with my two new readers this term. On average, teachers only get to spend 4 minutes individually with each child per week – so a half-hour reading session is a lot for them. 

 The 8-year-old boy I’ve been reading with all year had a major breakthrough today. We read half of the excellent Monster Trucks by Susan E. Goodman and Michael Doolittle. As a challenge, it was his job to pick out every time the words ‘monster trucks’ were mentioned. He did so well at this that he took on more and more words to identify and read. By the end of the session he was beaming with pride. I still remember back in January when he used to tell me he would never be able to read. I was so proud of him as he told his teacher about the session. His teacher was just as delighted.

12th October 

Sadly only two of my readers were in school today. 

The 10-year-old was slightly less engaged than last week. That’s one thing I’ve learnt since I’ve been volunteering – sometimes, children just won’t be in the mood! It’s normal, and reading helpers shouldn’t feel bad about it. I’m still on a mission to find a book that she really loves. 

The 8-year-old who had the breakthrough last week was steaming ahead again today. We used the same techniques as last week to finish the rest of Monster Trucks. He is so full of confidence now, and it’s wonderful to see. 


My plan for the rest of this term is to keep using the same ‘find the word’ techniques with the two 8-year-olds to increase their confidence, and to explore more books from the ‘Beanstalk Brilliant’ reading list to help the 10-year old find her favourite – I'll let you know how I get on after half-term! 


If you'd like to become a reading helper like Jemma, click here