The most important part of any child’s learning
"It’s not a business venture, it’s all about everybody pulling together as a community and doing their bit to make a fantastic day for a lot of children."
Hurling my Biff and Chip book across the lounge, I used to scream in my mum’s ear: “I can’t do it!”
However, I got there in the end…I learnt to read.
Fast forward to 2013, the year during which the first Oxfordshire Children’s Read-A-Thon took place. An event aimed at getting children excited about reading, it returns to Milton Manor on 17th September 2016.
It is organised by Anne Wattam, who I first met at a lunch one of our sister titles was running. At this point she was dressed as the title character from The Cat in the Hat, not missing the opportunity to promote the initiative she is behind.
A week or so after this I rang her up to talk further about Read-A-Thon and what it has been like for kids learning to read in recent times.
“Enthusiasm towards books and reading has diminished,” she says.
We discussed the reasons for this. Apparently government involvement in how reading is taught in our state primary schools factors significantly.
“The prescription that came from government about how the teaching of reading has to take place basically reduced time in the school day for one-to-one and daily reading with children,” Anne, who has 37 years’ experience as a teacher, claims. “If a child reads to a teacher once a week in school, that’s considered to be the norm now,” she says.
Anne has worked in state schools and independents. “State schools have to follow government prescription and guidelines, independent schools don’t,” she says. “In independent schools the culture of daily reading has never wavered. Whereas in some state schools daily reading, and the practice of children taking reading books home, was absolutely decimated.” She goes on to tell me that some of these institutions are addressing the issue and attempting a return to daily reading with pupils.
“If children are not being exposed to books and if they’re not encouraged to think reading is exciting, they’re not going to read,” she states. “If they can’t read they can’t access any other part of the curriculum. Reading is the most important part of any child’s learning because every other discipline hinges on it.
“The quality of reading programmes now is phenomenal, so it’s not the resources, they’re better now than they’ve ever been, but they’re not necessarily being used as they should be.”
At Read-A-Thon characters from children’s books are played by an assortment of volunteers. The children are given cards with images of book covers on; their task is then to find the character linked to each cover. Those taking part in the hunt get their cards stamped each time they locate a new character.
With 60 characters in total, it’s an alternative, Anne explains, to “overwhelming the children or putting them off by giving them books and saying ‘you must read’. Through meeting a character they become excited about what is in the book that character is linked to.”
It’s an idea that may well have worked for me in my book throwing days – what with it being far more difficult to launch a person through the air.
That said, actual books can also be found dotted about the Manor grounds.
“For example,” Anne says, “at the end of the Gruffalo Walk in the woodlands the children can find The Gruffalo storybook. We’ve introduced the children to the setting, they find the characters as they go down the woodland walk, and then at the end – if they don’t know it – they can access the book.”
Not ignoring classic literature, the lake at Milton this year finds itself host to mermaids and a crocodile – in recognition of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan. Children can cross the lake by boat and also visit Peter’s three story tree house where the boy himself may well be present.
The lake is part of why Read-A-Thon have to fork out a fair bit for insurance, and also the reason my suggestion to do the event by night wasn’t 100 per cent lapped up by Anne. Despite the costs incurred in running Read-A-Thon, all its organisers ask of you should you attend is a £1 donation.
And although it involves grown-up words like insurance, Anne informs me organising Read-A-Thon “isn’t stressful. It’s the coming together of people that all want to give. It’s all based on good will and volunteers. I know I can rely on people because everybody is doing it with an amazing attitude. It’s not a business venture, it’s all about everybody pulling together as a community and doing their bit to make a fantastic day for a lot of children.”
Read-A-Thon takes place 17th September at Milton Manor. It will be opened by Sir Tony Baldry, Deputy Lieutenant for Oxfordshire, and welcomes illustrator David Melling, author/illustrator Chris Mould, and poet John Foster. RM Education will also be at the event, to show children how their reading can develop through the use of technology.
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