Monday, March 20, 2017

Growing reading groups... a year later

About a year ago I posted Why read to kids on a pile of rocks in the shade of a thorn tree?  We've come a long way since those days! Not only have we graduated to reed mats, we have also expanded. Yes, Veronica recruited six volunteers in 2016, and we have added several more in 2017 so far! 

Each of our newer volunteers is excited to read to kids. They are following the model that Veronica and I worked out as we experimented with our first books. 

  • Talk to adults first. 
  • Gather the kids. 
  • Read stories and talk about what happens. 
  • Meet weekly at a fixed time.
The adults often stay for the stories. Some of them can read. Some of them cannot. One thing they are learning is that their children LIKE to read. Books are now a part of their community life! Books are not a foreign thing brought by strangers. These books are THEIR stories in THEIR language. 

The bigger storybook version of each title is also really popular. Our group leaders know the kids and have taught them to care for the books. Watching as older children read to the little ones is so much fun. They have gained confidence. They are leading and reading! They are free to choose a book and share it. These growing little libraries are a blessing to the children, families, and communities where our leaders live or visit.

In the last few months our groups have started being more intentional about teaching reading skills. This came in response to community needs. Parents are concerned that the kids don't progress well in school without homework help or tutoring. In many families, there is no one who can support this need. Our readers have volunteered to fill the gap for those kids. They are blessing those families in a unique way.

We have been making letter cards out of recycled cardboard boxes. Our group leaders have learned to make neatly measured and cut cards with nicely printed letters! We are trying out several games that help identify progress in the kids' skills. No testing - just playing and learning together.  Who knows the most letter names and sounds in a row?

They also use the cards to spell words. Sometimes they compete to make the longest word. Sometimes they choose Nyungwe words. Sometimes they spell Portuguese words. The children are growing up with both languages all around them. In the reading groups, they are learning that they can read and write in both languages. They can tell stories in both languages. They can understand both. That's a big deal around here.

The groups have also begun to use alphabet banners made from recycled cardboard and string. Teachers passing by think they are great! Some of them even plan to make their own for their classrooms. Teacher trainers have noticed them, too. They hope to include these innovations in training for new teachers. Why learn to recite the alphabet if you NEVER see the letters you are reciting? That is the reality of first grade classrooms here. Small changes can make a big difference. Our volunteers are leading the way!

Somewhere in Tete this afternoon, a volunteer is stringing up a banner of homemade letters between two trees. Twenty-some children spread out mats in the long shadows. There is singing and giggling as someone tries to name all the letters. They take turns pointing to the cards swinging on the string. They choose a book to read together and talk about the meaning of the story. They play some games. They ask and answer and learn to share their ideas and respect each other. They help to put it all away.

Sometimes a few of them stick around for just one more book.

We thank everyone who makes this possible. Little Zebra Books and all the caring people who are willing to give so others can improve the lives of these kids. THANK YOU!!!

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