By Susan Cullen, a Beanstalk trained reading helper

I must admit I did not expect to find myself running down the road with a very heavy and bulging bag of books, worried about being late for primary school at the age of 60! But when I did I couldn’t have been any happier.

I started with Beanstalk last year in October and was allocated quite quickly to a rather lovely local primary school.

It was nothing like I imagined. It was even better. When I first started I had an idealistic view of how I might introduce them to some of the classic literature I had enjoyed as a child. I had forgotten the most important thing, which is that each child is an individual and it takes time to understand what ‘makes them tick’ and what their interests and passions are. I have had to accept that sometimes it is not about what I want and that the best sessions have often proved to be the ones that are organic in nature and led by the child themselves.

There have been days when I have felt it was all uphill and quite a struggle. One or other of the children has not been so enthusiastic because they’re tired or not as interested in a new book as I had hoped. But then another morning I will come in and a child will suddenly and unexpectedly repeat something they have learned during one of our previous sessions and I feel elated.

It can be tough and challenging at times but I can honestly say that the plusses far outweigh any moments of doubt. Getting to know each child, and seeing them blossom and start to feel increasingly confident within the sessions has been a rewarding and uplifting experience.

Their perspective on life is often refreshing and funny and the moments when they open up and share things about their home-lives, pets and siblings, make you feel truly honoured.

Returning to school life and being part of that environment and energy feels quite special. A world apart from the corporate and serious environment I had spent the last 30 years involved in. Even the morning when a small child, with a very pale bewildered little face, stopped right in front of me in the school corridor and started to eject a spray of pink vomit of Niagara Falls proportions did not dim my enthusiasm.

Hearing youthful voices singing, in assembly, or in a fit of the giggles at some funny word they have just read in a book... all of it is a daily treasure. To be part of all that is a privilege. I am always aware that the Beanstalk programme is just one small part of their everyday lives and we have to compete with everything else that is going on for them in their world. But I try to ensure they leave our sessions as happy as I always do. 

Being a Beanstalk reading helper is certainly one of the most fun things I've done, I'd encourage anyone who has the time to become a reading helper too!