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Alys’ Reading Heroes Volunteer Story – “It took her out of herself.”

Written by Lily Kehoe, 25th March 2024

Reading Heroes matches volunteers to read with care experienced children and young people in order to spark a life long love of reading and to help improve the children’s confidence and well being.  We read with children in foster care, in kinship care with extended family and those who are being supported by Early Help teams who are aiming to keep families together.

With the number of care experienced children in the UK growing and the research telling us that they are more at risk of social, emotional and mental health problems, Reading Heroes is a more important project than ever.

Alys reads over Zoom with an 11-year-old girl from Wales whose most recent foster care placement is in England. As a Welsh speaker herself, Alys is able to conduct the sessions in Welsh to support this aspect of the girl’s identity.

Alys: We started with us both sharing the reading. But I was conscious that because Welsh is her second language, she’s not able to be completely relaxed in it, and when this is the case for a reader it can mean that their enjoyment of the book is impeded by the focus that they put on understanding and pronouncing every word. I asked whether this was true for her and she said that she enjoyed the books more when I did the reading aloud. It meant there was more chance for me to talk about other things, because I can interrupt myself much more easily when I’m reading. So we did that for perhaps five or six sessions, but then, about two or three sessions ago, she said at the beginning, ‘I’d like to read,’ and she’s been doing the reading ever since. And I do feel that her reading is better.

It was a real breakthrough. Since then I’ve noticed – it’s just a small amount – she will break through and talk about the text, comparing what I do or what she does with what’s happening in the story. Our first read together was by Alex T. Smith: Claude: Lights! Camera! Action! (Clem a’r Sgrin Fawr). For several weeks after that we read some of the Dirty Bertie books – Tudur Budr in Welsh – these are short stories, humorous ones (with titles like Kiss!, Toilet! and Germs!), which I thought was a good place to start. One week I said, ‘Do you want to have a go at reading this different book from the Tom Gates series?’ and she said, ‘Well…no, I’m alright with Tudur Budr.’ I’d already heard from her carer that she was a bit concerned about some books that had been sent through in the post; apparently she had been a bit frightened, because she thought they looked too difficult for her. But I said, ‘I don’t think they are difficult. It’s just the way the books look, because there’s a lot of text.’ Last week, I turned to another one, a novel called Hedyn by Caryl Lewis, saying, ‘Shall we have a look at this? I’ll do the reading this week. We’ll just read the first chapter.’ And that time she said, ‘Yes, please, yes.’ And then I said, ‘Shall we read the second chapter?’ ‘Oh yes, please. Yes, please.’ She was understanding it. When we start again in September, I’ll pick up on that book again and ask her if she wants to have a go at reading that.

Last week we started the call and the carer said, ‘She’s got an attitude this evening, so be patient.’ But she was fine, straightaway, and by the end she was laughing and I could see she was far more relaxed than she had been at the beginning. It took her out of herself.

This is an extract from an article which first appeared in issue 76 of The Reader Magazine.

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