My name is Bharti Parmar and I couldn’t read until I was 7The reasons why, shape why I volunteer for Coram Beanstalk. 

I am a professional woman of hardworking immigrant parents from the Indian subcontinent.

I spoke my mother tongue (Gujarati) until I was 5 and couldn’t speak English when I started school in northern England in the 1970s.  I consequently found this to be a disadvantage in my early schooling and didn’t fully reach my potential until I was 10.  At this point I discovered a love of learning finding that a world of opportunities was available to me.   


My mother was a housewife and my father worked long shifts in a factory. 

As an only child, I spent my pre-school years at home with my mother.  It was a loving environment, but there were no books and few toys.  I remember feeling bewildered starting at infants school understanding, yet not understood.  I stayed for school lunch eating plain mashed potato and meat (always wondering if it was the beef I was prohibited from eating) and yearning for the tasty food that I was accustomed to.  I didn’t use a knife and fork because we ate with our hands.  I was confused when a teacher once swapped my utensils around.  Hindus don’t use the left hand to eat with.   

In class I couldn’t read the words.  I couldn’t follow the teacher.  I didn’t understand the cultural references; I didn’t go swimming, I didn’t go on foreign holidays and I’d never seen the sea.  I didn’t say much.  I wasn’t doing well.   


I was placed in remedial class.  Even at age 5, I understood what that meant. 

In one of these classes, I remember being drawn to tessellated shapes, building blocks and objects to lace and string together.  I realise now that the school advocated the educational philosophy of Froebel’s Gifts: (wooden blocks 1-6) and occupations (including sticks, clay, sand, slates, chalk, wax, shells, stones, scissors, paper folding).  I believe that early interaction with these geometric shapes had a formative experience on my interest in shapes, systems, language and how things connect in the world.   


I was the first young woman to attend university from my community in the 1980s, which was not commonplace at that time. 

My work as a successful artist and academic has brought many privileges including the opportunity to experience the world through travel, art and culture.   


Reading is the bedrock of knowledge and that’s why I work as a reading helper at a primary school in Birmingham.  It is a culturally diverse school and many of the children that we read with may not have had the easiest start.  Even though I work full time, I prioritise my Coram Beanstalk days, and my school are very accommodating when I can’t. 


What I do with the children. 

I give them time.  I don’t make judgements about their background or their ability.  I ask them sensitive questions about what they like, what language they speak at home, what food they eat.  I take the cue from them if they don’t want to read.  We don’t always start from the beginning of a book.  Sometimes I read to them.  Occasionally I read, but make deliberate mistakes substituting their names for characters.  We laugh a lot.  A session isn’t successful unless there’s been laughter.  And we draw.  Lots of drawing.  I spend half the session recapping on what we’ve done, then we draw TOGETHER the best bits of the story.  We have fun.  And I hope they want to come back next week.  

Artist, Dr Bharti Parmar, Coram Beanstalk Reader since 2018