Toronto ReadUP volunteer reading program helps kids improve literacy
|Report an Error|
Share via Email
Sheilah Currie has sat beside more than 1,000 novice readers over the years, listening and watching them turn the pages as they master one word after another.
She never, ever gets tired of it.
“I don’t know how to describe the feeling, it’s quite amazing,” says the founder of ReadUP, a free Toronto reading club that launches young children into a new chapter in life — by helping them become confident readers.
Some kids look “almost in shock” the first time they read a whole beginner picture book aloud. Others, eyes shining, scurry off to tell Mom or Dad.
If you want to create keen readers, she says, it’s important to provide positive experiences from the start, so that kids want to go back for more. She’s made it her mission to provide them.
Currie, 55, is a former elementary school teacher and literacy expert who spent seven years teaching Reading Recovery, an evidence-based school program aimed at struggling readers in Grade 1. She’s also written 60 educational readers used in classrooms.
Her reading club began in 2005 when she was approached by Eastview Neighbourhood Community Centre. Parents in the area, many from newcomer families, were seeking academic support for their school-age children. So Currie launched a weekly, hour-long drop-in aimed at boosting reading skills.
Children can drop in every week and pick up three books suited to their reading level. They sit one-on-one with a volunteer and read them aloud, then take them home for the week to practice.
Research shows kids who grasp reading basics by around the end of Grade 1 and, equally important, who think of themselves as readers, have more academic success throughout school and are less likely to drop out. Not to mention the ability to immerse themselves in the magic of a good story.
A year after the opening, Currie added another site at the Parent Resources Drop-in Centre. Today the non-profit has five clubs, including one at the Red Door Family Shelter, and two at downtown elementary schools.
The club isn’t just for struggling readers, but anyone who wants to connect over books and borrow them.
Volunteers, always in demand, include retired teachers, seniors, high school students and in many cases, kids who once attended ReadUP as young readers. They leave the skills like phonics to the schools and instead focus on fostering confidence and a love of books.
Currie says the biggest factor in early success and enthusiasm is making sure children get books that match their ability. All too frequently, adults will hand a child a book that’s too difficult and suddenly the whole enterprise becomes a chore.
“Any parent who comes to me and says my child won’t read, I say take it back to an easier level they can handle, so they think ‘I’m succeeding,’ ” says Currie.
Reluctant readers are actually fearful readers, nervous they can’t do it. The solution is choosing a book they can master so they get caught up in the flow of the story and pulled along.
Another key to inspiring beginner readers is reading aloud to them as often as possible. Even until well after they are capable of reading on their own.
“There’s a big difference between a children’s book written for adults to read aloud, and books written to be read by children who are learning,” says Currie. Both experiences are vital to literacy.
ReadUP is having its first fundraiser this month. For more information or to volunteer, visit readUP.ca
Tips for emerging readers:
Don’t worry about when your child learns to read. Age is not the best indicator. Instead, take your cue from whether they show interest in text; and if they are able to move their finger left to right and from one word to the next, which indicates they recognize words as separate entities separated by spaces.
Go for a picture walk: For beginners, flip through the book first to familiarize them with pictures, characters and pronunciation of words that might come up.
Reassure the child before they begin that you will help with tricky words.
Use the “three-second rule.” Don’t wait longer than that when a child is stuck on a word before giving it to them. This keeps the story moving and prevents frustration. If he or she makes a mistake, wait three seconds before jumping in to correct it. That creates time for self-correcting and reinforces the message that errors are a normal part of learning.
Encourage kids to take risks and not worry about being wrong.
If children become impatient, take turns each reading a page.
Stop halfway through a book and discuss the story. What has he or she noticed so far and what may come next? This boosts comprehension.
Encourage rereading books.
Don’t discourage fidgeting — that’s how some kids focus.
Avoid telling beginning readers to “sound it out.” Too often children who don’t know a word are asked to do this before they have the skills.
Celebrate when kids use clues. That includes referring pictures, guessing a word according to common syntax, or memorizing clauses. Assimilating information is part of learning.
Have kids read books in their first language. It will benefit reading in English too, because the habit and skills are transferable.