Each Monday at 4.15pm, Erika, age 7, sits down at her laptop ready for her reading session with Claire, a Learn to Love to Read volunteer.
The session isn’t due to start till 4.45pm, but as Erika’s dad Sabino explains: ‘We say “there’s still half an hour to go,” but she’s ready and waiting. Erika gets really excited: she can’t wait to talk to Miss Claire.’
Claire and Erika have been reading together online since November 2020. Erika is one of 90 local children who have accessed regular, weekly reading support with Learn to Love to Read during the coronavirus pandemic.
Like many other local charities, Learn to Love to Read has pivoted its services over the past year: moving from supporting children and families face-to-face, to delivering around 6400 books to local families with limited resources, supporting 75 parents to help their child’s reading at home, and providing weekly one-to-one reading support virtually instead of face-to-face.
For Erika, her weekly reading session has been something to look forward to during lockdown, as well as a chance for her to keep up her reading. It’s also been rewarding for Claire:
‘I do find it rewarding and a lot of that is fuelled by Erika and her excitement. The screen pops up and she’s there smiling and excited and usually with something funny to show me.’
The screen hasn’t been a problem with technology running smoothly after the first couple of weeks. Claire was even able to donate a laptop so Erika had her own device to read on.
‘It’s really gratifying when she has a really good read,’ says Claire. ‘Often it can be frustrating for her, having to sound out the words but when it gets tough like that we stop and talk about the pictures or find something new to make it fun.
‘This week she read really well, she seemed really excited to be reading and it’s how it should be. It’s called Learn to Love to Read after all.’
Sabino agrees. ‘She’s enjoying it and her reading and speaking is improving. She’s imaginative and she loves animals so books with animals in are her favourites.’
Claire, going through Erika’s favourite books, agrees: ‘”Baxter goes to Bowwow,” “Bobbee gets Stuck,” “The Lost Sheep,” yes an animal theme is emerging.’
Most important to the success of the partnership is the relationship.
‘We can’t say anything bad about Claire,’ says Sabino. ‘She’s got patience and most importantly my daughter likes her, she trusts her, that’s the most important thing.’
Claire agrees. ‘With Erika I feel each week that she and I are forming some sort of relationship, albeit digitally. And if there’s trust and enjoyment that will lead to reading being a good thing – something you enjoy, rather than a chore.’
And reading with Erika is helping the whole family. Sabino explains: ‘My wife, she’s learning with Erika. Her reading is improving too. It’s helping the whole family.’
Claire explains: ‘Each week we focus on two or three words. Erika’s mum writes them down and then each week they practise. They’re really on it.’
Would Sabino recommend Learn to Love to Read to other families?
‘Yes. We did and we do. We have two friends with children and we’ve already told them to get in touch.’