By Karen Clarke, a Beanstalk trained reading helper

I am in my fifth year as a Beanstalk reading helper. When I retired from my job as a university lecturer, I wanted to do some kind of voluntary work with children. Through a friend I heard about Beanstalk. I applied to become a volunteer in January 2013 and by April I had attended the excellent two-day initial training and was starting in a school, working with three looked-after children, all boys, in Years 4, 5 and 6.

The first term was a challenge. I felt out of touch with children’s books and with the kinds of TV programmes and computer games that this generation of children is engaged with. But it was also very interesting and stimulating. I learned to ‘go with the flow’, to use my ignorance as a reason to genuinely ask for clarification, for example about what Minecraft is and how to play it, and to try not to be too fixed in my expectations about what I would do with a particular child in one of our sessions.

My local library increased my borrowing allowance when I explained that I was a reading helper in a primary school and I spent many enjoyable hours supplementing the contents of my Beanstalk box with books from the children’s section that I hoped would tempt my somewhat reluctant readers. Kieron*, who told me that books were boring, was fascinated by deadly animals of various kinds, and my moment of triumph came when, after several months when he wouldn’t read anything, he read a whole book about sharks and the various narrow escapes from death which people around the world had had. We played a lot of games involving animals and the alphabet, and when we got stuck on animals beginning with U, X and N, this took us to animal encyclopaedias to find the answers. We both learned a lot in the process!

Through Beanstalk I have been introduced to and enjoyed a new generation of children’s books, such as Jacqueline Wilson’s ‘Lizzy Zipmouth’, Jeff Kinney’s ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’, Liz Pichon’s ‘Tom Gates’ series and a host of others. I have also had to learn a lot about football and who is going up (or down) in the Premier League. I have discovered some great new games, such as Rush Hour, and been reminded of various card games, such as ‘Go Fish’, and Rummy which I hadn’t played for a long time.

I am currently working with three much younger children – three five-year olds, in Year 1. The books which I discovered and enjoyed with 8 to 10 year olds are clearly not suitable for them, so it’s more trips to the library to find simple books that will engage them, and a different range of games which we can enjoy together. What hasn’t changed is the enjoyment and satisfaction of spending an hour-and-a-half twice a week with three children, seeing them change and develop over the year, and getting an insight into their lives and interests through our conversations.

If you would like to become a Beanstalk reading helper then it’s really easy to get involved, I can’t recommend it enough!

*not his real name