1st August 2019

Mandy has been a reading helper with Coram Beanstalk for over two years in North London. In this article she explains in her own words how helping to make reading fun is 'priceless'...

If you’ve ever taught someone how to ride a bike you’ll know the point, as you’re holding on to the back of them, when to let go.

This was the case with my reader. When we first started reading together she was at the end of year 4. She loved Roald Dahl and decided to read one of his shorter and simpler stories, The Twits.

Like when one first rides a bike, she was wobbly, not looking forward, a little shy and lacking confidence. There is quite a lot to do all at the same time when you first start to read. You have to decode the words AND understand the meaning. She would read too quickly and miss words and so wouldn’t always grasp the meaning. I would have to slow her down and encourage her to put her finger under the words as she read.

In the autumn term I noticed that she was much less wobbly, a little more confident and started to look ahead. She had started to understand what she was reading and having lots of fun trying to guess what would happen next. Often she was right!

And then in the new year I noticed not just a little jump, but a giant leap. She decided to bring the book I am Malala. This is a heavy book and so I was interested to see how she would approach it.

She began by wanting to look at the photos and the captions, but then we read a few pages from the introduction. We would stop every so often so I could ask her questions. She was understanding everything, including the inferred meaning. Although there were a few words she didn’t understand, she would stop and ask what they were or look in the dictionary. She was reading much more fluently, would correct herself and read with expression.

I knew then that she didn’t need me anymore. From the back of the bike, I let go.

When you first let go of the bike, the rider will speed along happily and often won’t realise you’ve let go of them until they stop, look back and see how far they’ve come. It’s a moment of pride, happiness and huge achievement.

As a volunteer reading helper this couldn’t be more true. I can’t pretend to take all of the credit for her success, but like her supportive school, teachers and family we are an important cog in that wheel. Giving support and encouragement and making reading fun is priceless. It gives them a gift and confidence that will set them up for life.

When I told my reader that we were going to stop the sessions, I was really touched when she told me that she was sad. She enjoyed reading with me. But the thing is, I can see that she now loves reading.

For my reader she has come far. She has gone from The Twits to Malala.

By Mandy Norman

If you have been inspired by Mandy's experience and would like to learn more about being a reading helper, please visit our volunteering pages where you can also complete an online application form. We will be running training and selection days throughout the summer at locations across England in preparation for the new academic year.