Last year, attendance for a reading programme targeting 4 to 9-year olds was dwindling. There was always a bunch of dedicated volunteers waiting in our air-conditioned classroom but only a handful of children would show. Those who came always had a fun-filled learning experience and they left for home with a sense of achievement. However, not everyone came back the following week and so at the end of the year, we decided to stop the programme and redeployed the volunteers.
Many children that we are in touch with could do with some help strengthening their ability to read. It disturbed us that our programme could not reach them and so we spent a fair amount of effort trying to set up a few bookshelves filled with books on the ground floor of the flats where they lived. We had books donated by the National Library Board and we thought that parents and neighbours could work with us to change the books regularly. Unfortunately, the idea could not be implemented but the “library at the void deck” has now become the “library in a backpack.”
The past 2 weeks have been very encouraging as children and a couple of parents greeted us enthusiastically as we laid out straw mats at an open space below their homes. Within minutes, they were seated and tuned into the programme answering questions that our volunteers had put forth to gain their attention. Then they listened raptly as we started telling a story from a big book. When the story ended, the children chose a book from a backpack which had some 15 books that were appropriate for their reading level. Our backpacks catered to reading levels from the first year of kindergarten to the second year of primary education.
Each child then sat with a volunteer who read the book out to them before they attempted to read it aloud on their own. When done the child set aside that book and some others that he or she will bring home for the week before coming together as a group for a game of tag. After an hour of sitting and reading, the children did not turn down our invitation to move vigorously and to return the following week.
Some children told us that they will ask their friends to join them and it seemed like sitting on the floor, the lack of privacy or air-conditioning were not things that would discourage them from coming to the programme. So, “What is a conducive learning environment?” we asked ourselves. The open space was at times very warm and residents were constantly walking by with a few curious enough to observe what was going on. From this experience, we reckoned that a conducive learning environment is one where people felt at home and attended to. This open “classroom” was also a familiar playground for the children and those walking by were their spectators. The open space was where the children performed in every sense of the word and hopefully, the perfect place to up their performance in reading.
Enjoy your week.
The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention. – Richard Moss