By Muriel Tersago, a Beanstalk trained reading helper

Twice a week, I drive into what used to be a brown-site and is now being turned into playing fields and a little car park for the village school. Lorries thunder past as I walk along and it feels like months that I have been putting my hood up against the cold wind and grey skies. Twice a week, I go into the school, pull my blue Beanstalk box out from under a desk and push it along the ground to the little area where I spend time with my three children. And twice a week, I go to their form rooms to collect them. They look up from their desks, and smile and wave and walk over to join me.

I started volunteering with Beanstalk as a reading helper about a year ago, having googled ‘Volunteer opportunities in Kent’. I stopped working as a management consultant fifteen years ago to look after my children, and have since completed a psychology degree and worked with a number of different charities. It can be quite a tough thing volunteering - a lot of the work can be boring or repetitive, or actually quite challenging. You don’t always meet people you have much in common with, you are not paid and there is not a lot of kudos in it.  So it’s great to find something you enjoy and you feel has value to others, and in which you feel valued yourself. 

Now I work with a seven year old, who could read almost every word he came across but who was not very interested in reading and didn’t always understand the meaning of the stories. An older girl who struggled to sound out quite common words but had astonishing insight into the characters of a book and read with a brilliant dramatic flourish. Another girl who would chatter away endlessly, initially to avoid reading and possibly because she had a captive audience, and who now talks about the books and what they mean to her. We choose books and speculate about the characters. We play games and devise new ones. We talk about our interests and ideas. I try to be inventive and attentive and kind. Sometimes I just sit back and listen to their voices as they read a book they never thought they could read.

I knew there was another reading helper who came in on different days and we arranged to meet for a coffee and swap ideas. He had worked in finance in the Far East for years. We talked about what we did to help the children build their confidence, enjoy themselves and want to read – and when it worked and when it didn’t go to plan. Years ago, we might have met in a conference room to discuss a big business program.

There are all sorts of people who volunteer with Beanstalk. At a training session, I met a woman who works in admin four days a week, has a young son and does her Beanstalk volunteering one day a week, a sort of job share with another woman. I think people join Beanstalk for different reasons but end up staying for the same ones. We stay for the bond we form with the children we support, being able to witness the progress they make, and knowing that we are helping a young child reach their true potential.

It’s certainly 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!