By Sally Floyer, a Beanstalk trained reading helper. 

I first got involved with Beanstalk back in 2008 when, following my career in children’s publishing, I wanted to continue helping children become inspired readers. I have found the last seven years as a Beanstalk trained reading helper to be extremely fun and rewarding, so I want to share with you some of my recent and memorable encounters with the children I support!  

The other day I was cycling home when a voice called out from the pavement ‘Hello, Sally!’  It was Leroy*.  He has moderate learning difficulties and at seven he used to tear the pages out of picture books to give to his friends. The school thought reading might be beyond his capacity. He worked with me for two years then had fulltime support from a TA in years 5 and 6, and he left primary school in the summer with a reading age of about a seven-year-old – an amazing achievement. I asked what he was doing so far from home and he said cheerfully that he had been visiting his aunt and was going to take the bus back – a level of confidence and skill no one imagined he would attain.

Liam*, in the same year, whom I worked with for three years up to year 4, is dyslexic and in year 2 would only read one book – a level one fairy story from Ladybird.  He worked so hard and made such good progress that he achieved above national average in his SATs this summer – and received a letter of congratulation from the Duchess of Cornwall, our patron, who met him when he was seven.

Both these boys had a great deal of expert help at primary school but perhaps their time with me was the catalyst which showed them that if they tried they could learn to read and enjoy reading at a level way ahead of their own expectations. 

In my school it’s always very clear why children are chosen for Beanstalk support. This term one of my girls has a younger sister with Downs syndrome and Ayana* is very needy and attention-seeking – in class she lacks motivation and though she can read very well she doesn’t work independently.  She just loves the one-to-one attention and is quite manipulative, always trying to negotiate extra time! 

My other two current children can read, but have stalled in their progress and need a bit of motivation.  They enjoy choosing and talking about their books and Rosie* said to me yesterday that she is now reading every night with her mum, which was great news. Pete’s* main problem is that he reads much too quickly, missing punctuation and making wild guesses rather than thinking and using his techniques, so he quite often misses the meaning.  So we have to stop and make sure he knows what is going on to help his comprehension.  He’s a very funny boy who is determined to beat me one day at Connect 4 – I am the school champion!

I’ve just taken in a pumpkin from my garden for the children to carve for their class – Ayana said she’d never made a Hallowe’en lantern.  As we were finishing it off year 5 came past on their way to playtime and my four children stopped to say hello.  They were outraged!  ‘You didn’t do that with us last year!’ they said accusingly, quite forgetting they’d decorated Christmas biscuits for their friends.  The children get quite possessive about their reading helpers and are always asking who I worked with before them – there are three of us in a one-form entry school and it’s seen as a real privilege.

Every child is different but what I really believe we can do for all of them is give them confidence to have a go and to discover for themselves books they can enjoy. When children don’t read they don’t write well either and their imaginations aren’t stretched so they don’t develop the enquiring minds which they really need to do well. Our job, as well as helping their basic skills, is to encourage that curiosity and enjoyment.

Being a Beanstalk reading helper and seeing the change in the children I support is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done and it’s a pleasure to be involved. I’d encourage anyone who has the time to apply to become a reading helper too!

*names have been changed to protect the identity of children