When it comes to reading with young children, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start or how to make it a fun bonding experience you’ll want to share again and again. But don’t worry, help is at hand with our top 5 tips!
Joanne Sarginson has been working with us since September as People Intern at our head office in Liverpool. She writes for The Reader Online about her own personal experience of reading being shared within her family – particularly with her brother – and the significant impacts it can have.
My brother was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of eight. I was ten at the time and had recently discovered the Harry Potter series. As a result, I thought that ‘dyslexia’ sounded like a spell everyone’s favourite boy wizard would utilise in order to disarm an aggressive Death Eater.
Dyslexia had a significant impact on my brother’s relationship with books and the way in which he perceived reading in general. In the years following his diagnosis he visited a series of specialists, almost all of whom recommended that he read for at least an hour per day with one of my parents. The idea was to make books more accessible. By reading aloud, my brother was forced to engage with the writing before him. The words were no longer a cluttered mass of letters on a page and were instead clearly verbalised, allowing him to establish a greater connection both with the characters in the book and message that the author was trying to convey.
However, although he was making progress, a sense of obligation soon began to develop around the idea of reading. Every time that my brother picked up a book, he did so under the impression that there was something wrong with him – that he had ‘special needs’ and that he was reading in attempt to fix himself. As a result, reading quickly became an activity that he associated with pressure as opposed to pleasure. He was increasingly reluctant to read. Eventually, my mum was forced to entice him into his daily reading sessions under the condition that she would reward him with a Curly Wurly at the end.
On a couple of occasions, my brother asked me why I liked reading. I like to think I gave the following response:
“For me, one of the best things about reading is the sense of shared experience. It is comforting to establish a connection with a character, to visualise an element of yourself within them, something which enables you to think ‘that’s what it’s like for me’.
In reality, it was probably much less eloquent and more along the lines of ‘sometimes, I feel the same as the characters’. Hoping to engage his interest, I asked him if he had ever experienced a similar connection with a fictional character. He frowned for a moment and then said:
‘I guess I connect with Captain Underpants.’
Captain Underpants is a children’s book series in which two mischievous school children hypnotise their headmaster, compelling to remove his clothes and perform heroic acts in his underwear. I asked my brother in what way he felt related to Captain Underpants. Was it the idea of a lack of control, the feeling as if he didn’t have total authority over his own actions?
‘I wear underpants too,’ he said.
I read Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time with my brother when he was fourteen years old. Before this, my attempts to read with him had been largely unsuccessful. I did not possess the natural authority of a parent figure and, unlike my mum, did not have access to a supply of coveted Curly Wurlys. As a result, my offers were frequently met with a range of responses, including ‘no’, ‘nope’, ‘no way’, ‘nah’, ‘not going to happen’ and ‘books are gay’. My brother’s lack of interest in books frustrated me and I would often moodily contemplate what gave him the right to so forcibly reject my noble and selfless sacrifice of my time, let alone comment on the sexual orientation of a piece of literature. On the rare occasions that he did allow me to read with him, his focus would be erratic and he would rapidly become disinterested.
Initially, it was a similar experience with The Curious Incident – the same shifting eyes, small sighs and restless fidgeting. However, this changed when we reached p56 of the novel and read a passage in which the main character, Christopher, who has Asperger’s syndrome, comments on his perception of special needs:
‘Everyone has learning difficulties because learning to speak French or understanding relativity is difficult and also everyone has special needs, like Father, who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him from getting fat, or Mrs. Peters, who wears a beige-colored hearing aid, or Siobhan, who has glasses so thick that they give you a headache if you borrow them, and none of these people are Special Needs, even if they have special needs.’
(The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon, p56)
My brother was completely still. After a few seconds, he opened his mouth and quietly said:
‘that’s kind of a little bit how I feel too’.
Over the course of a month, we made our way to the end of Haddon’s novel. A few weeks later, I found my brother reading The Hunger Games. There were no Curly Wurlys involved. He had volunteered as tribute.
You can read more from Joanne over on her blog: https://joannesarginson.wordpress.com/
Last month, just days after our 2015 AGM, we headed to Sheffield for a special event showcasing and celebrating the impact of shared reading. We’ve been working with Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust since 2011, and for the last year have had a dedicated Reader-in-Residence delivering shared reading sessions across the trust in inpatient, community and primary care settings.
Staff and volunteers from across the trust, including those who have lived experience of mental health, joined us to share their personal experiences of shared reading and the differences it has made to them both personally and professionally, in their jobs and communities in which they live and work. As well as hearing these powerful first-hand testimonials, there was the chance to read a selection of poems collectively – and enjoy a slice of specially-made Reader cake!
Along with our Founder and Director Jane Davis, Katie McAllister, The Reader’s Development Manager for Mental Health, was also in the audience:
“Mia Bajin, the Patient and Public Involvement Manager at SHSC, who was instrumental in Sheffield commissioning a Read to Lead course way back in 2011, talked about the history of the project and about how much has been read since it started – it’s almost the equivalent of reading every Shakespeare play 15 times!
After hearing from our Reader-in-Residence about the range of groups that have been set up and supported by The Reader in the past year, we got to hear from Read to Lead trained mental health and social care professionals and how the training has impacted trust service users directly through the delivery of shared reading.
“You learn to carve a space, and people see an opening to say what they want to say” – Read to Lead trained member of staff at Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust
“The words, they’re lovely” – reaction from a dementia patient reading within Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust
We broke out into three shared reading sessions in which we read Wood Grouse on a High Promontory Overlooking Canada by David Guterson (thanks Shaun!) and Evening by Rainer Maria Rilke. Finally, we heard from Trust Chief Executive Kevan Taylor who talked about his own personal reading experiences, and what reading meant to him. Of our work he said, “the evidence base [for shared reading] is clearly there”.
“There’s an Emily Dickinson poem for every day of your life” – Kevan Taylor, Chief Executive of Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust
At the centre of the event was the work we have been doing within SHSC for the last year. Shaun Lawrence is Reader-in-Residence for Sheffield:
“On the day, I was caught up in the moment and was kept busy hosting the event and speaking about my experiences, so much of the morning was, I confess, rather a blur. For me the event was the culmination of a year’s work which began in November 2014 as I joined The Reader, since when I have been working to develop my skills as a shared reading practitioner alongside building up a solid relationship with colleagues in the Trust, in order to establish and develop my groups.
I was thrilled to realise the depth of feeling for the work that I have undertaken at SHSC over the past year. I got a real sense of the strength of the connections that had been made between people on the wards, and of the lasting effects of the shared reading groups which extended beyond each of the weekly sessions. I was also delighted by the sense of pride in the project that was evident in the volunteers, ward colleagues and recent Read to Lead trainees here at SHSC, and hearing the testimonials from them was for me, a real joy. Indeed, to hear first-hand experiences from staff about the impact of those groups on service users, and also with staff alike, really brought home to me the difference that the work of The Reader is making to people’s lives across the Trust.
I was very proud to be able to celebrate the success of my project in Sheffield and felt that having Jane present to hear the heart-warming testimonials from long standing volunteer readers was a validation in the trust that The Reader placed in me as a remote worker.”
Congratulations to Shaun and everyone involved in making shared reading such a success in Sheffield.
It’s been over a year since we signed the lease on Calderstones Mansion, making it ours for 125 years, and we were able to celebrate how far we’ve come in the past year at our AGM earlier this month. Throughout the evening, the Mansion fulfilled its purpose of being a home to our group members – some of whom had never visited our home at Calderstones before – who enjoyed good food courtesy of The Reader Cafe and Ice Cream Parlour as well as the atmosphere inside.
At present, nine of our weekly reading groups take place at the Mansion with new groups planned for the future – two of which are starting up in November, giving even more opportunity to visit. It’s not only our regular readers who are finding a home for themselves – our volunteering programme is expanding its reach, taking on a team of volunteers of all ages and walks of life to model how our community at Calderstones will work in future, and special visitors such as young people from the City of Readers summer school have already shown the potential of the Mansion as a place to make magic happen.
- shared reading with 20,553 people – an average of 395 each week
- welcomed 4,600 people through the doors for a programme of public literary events
- displayed 44 exhibitions from local artists and organisations at The Reader Gallery
- employed an additional 35 paid members of staff to our enterprises at Calderstones
For more astounding figures from our base at Calderstones, as well as to get a closer view of what’s happening within the walls of the Mansion, head over to the Calderstones Mansion blog.
Here’s to the future, which we already got a glimpse into by touring the forthcoming Storybarn…
This afternoon to celebrate Volunteers Week, Emma Melling and Colette Greggs took to the airwaves with BBC Radio Merseyside’s Roger Phillips to spread the word about Off The Page, our biggest volunteer recruitment initiative to date.
We’re looking for volunteers who want to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged children (aged from 11 to 16 years old) across Liverpool through one-to-one shared reading experiences. Not only will the project directly engage the children themselves with a love of reading for pleasure, but will also extend to the adults in their lives – be they parents, carers, family support workers, community staff and volunteers.
Think you might be up for this rewarding challenge? Emma and Colette tell us their top 5 tips for reading with this age group:
- Be passionate: make the story come alive! This can only happen if you care about what you’re reading. What books, poems or stories do you wish you could help a young person discover for the first time?
- Be patient: volunteers need to commit to reading an hour a week with a young person, for six months minimum. It may take weeks for a young person to overcome an initial resistance to reading. Enjoy the journey you take together – both of you may learn a lot from each other.
- Be flexible: something going down less well than you’d hoped? Don’t take it to heart. It may be that your young person isn’t ready to take on your suggested reads, or maybe they’re just not interested in that kind of thing. Be prepared to have options at the ready and don’t be afraid to change course if necessary – it’s all progress!
- Be bold: don’t be afraid to introduce new, sometimes darker material, particularly with older teenagers who may show greater engagement if they encounter literature that resonates with young adult issues and preoccupations. Always be sensitive to individual needs however!
- Be a role model: set an example, and not just when it comes to reading. You’re in a privileged position at a formative stage in a young person’s life. Afterwards, they should be remembering you as a positive influence – maybe you’ve even made a difference to the course of their future.
For more details of how to volunteer, please contact Celia Jordan, our Off The Page Project Manager, on email@example.com or 07812 238 395 – or come along to our Summer Fair on Saturday 6th June at Calderstones Mansion House.
The Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS) at the University of Liverpool has published ‘Read to Care‘, an evaluation report of a research project investigating the quality of life benefits and impacts for people living with dementia in shared reading activity across Merseyside.
CRILS is a research unit dedicated to investigating the effect of reading serious literature in the wider world, with a view to benefits in health and wellbeing, and is The Reader Organisation’s research partner. In 2012, CRILS evaluated TRO’s shared reading programme for people living with dementia with support from the Headley Trust – ‘A Literature-Based Intervention for Older People Living with Dementia’ showed that shared reading provided marked improvements in agitation levels, mood levels and concentration levels for participants, as well as improved social interaction.
Developing from this, TRO was commissioned by NHS North West to undertake a follow-up study of the effects of shared reading in Care Homes in Wirral. The aim of the project was to further investigate the impact engaging in a shared reading group activity has upon people living with dementia, adding to and supporting a growing body of anecdotal evidence.
In ‘Read to Care’, particular consideration is given to:
- the uses of powerfully emotional literature to trigger awakenings in people living with dementia;
- the value of literature in offering emotional experiences too often feared to be ‘negative’;
- the kind of memory that is stimulated by shared reading – different from working memory or from what is achieved through reminiscence therapy;
- the additional effect on relatives and carers
The conclusions and recommendations of the report show that shared reading groups significantly improve the quality of life of people living with dementia, as well as providing valuable benefit to care workers and relatives in encouragement of remaining human possibilities.
“Reading aloud when others are there to listen, the sense of being in a unified community, has been the privilege of Poets for millenia. And it works. The words – common to all, unite minds and the shared stimulus appears to have an uplifting group effect.” – Melvyn Bragg (preface to Read to Care)
The report will be the focus of a presentation held at the University of Liverpool this November. Professor Phil Davis, Director of CRILS, will present findings from Read to Care, alongside one of The Reader Organisation’s project workers who was involved in the practical delivery of the groups participating in the project. Anyone interested in dementia and the relationship between literature, health and wellbeing is welcome to discover more.
‘Read to Care: Shared Reading Groups & Quality of Life Benefits for People Living With Dementia’ with Professor Phil Davis is on Thursday 20th November, 6.00pm, at Lecture Theatre 1, Sherrington Building, Ashton Street (off Pembroke Place), University of Liverpool.
Cost: £20, including buffet supper.
This month, The Reader Organisation is getting an exciting new partnership underway – unlike any other we have embarked on before.
We’ve been commissioned by Phoenix Futures, a leading provider of services for people with drug and alcohol problems across the UK, to set up a shared reading project which will improve the health, wellbeing and emotional experience of those involved. Following the successful delivery of a group at Phoenix Futures in Wirral since 2005, this project will be rolling out the benefits of shared reading nationwide. Over twelve months we will pilot the development of a culture of shared reading across the organisation’s work with service users, staff and volunteers, based on a jointly held value that every person who is dependent on drugs and alcohol has the ability and the potential to rebuild their life.
“I feel the reading group has had a massive positive effect in the process of my recovery. I look forward to every Tuesday as it gives me an hour to sit back and relax in a good short story and takes my mind off problems I may have going on at that time.”
We have recruited a Reader-in-Residence especially for the project – Tom Young, Phoenix Futures Project Manager for The Reader Organisation, gives us a little more information:
“The groups will be open to service users, their families and Phoenix Futures staff, with the aim of improving not only health and wellbeing but communication across these groups. The first two groups have been confirmed in their Trafford services – one with adults recovering from addiction and another with young people. These will both begin towards the end of September. The project will eventually expand into Phoenix’s services in other regions, including Lancashire, Sheffield and Barnsley. In addition to the reading groups, we will be training staff and service users in our core literary learning programmes (Read to Lead; A Little, Aloud; and Stories for You and Yours). A second strand of training will be the Workplace Wellbeing workshops – a series of bespoke sessions with Phoenix Futures staff, each addressing a particular area of need. The commission differs somewhat from many of our previous projects in its emphasis on achieving organisational change, in addition to the work with service users. I have been working on the project since the beginning of August.”
Our various shared reading projects in the sphere of health and wellbeing have proved to have deeply profound personal, social and educational impacts upon those who take part. Of particular importance is the relaxed, informal atmosphere that is created at every session – which can offer a respite and take people away from the problems they may be experiencing elsewhere in life – and the fact that reading aloud doesn’t excude anybody, no matter what their abilities. Not only does our shared reading activity promote recovery, it also builds supportive communities and improves quality of life.
We have worked with people in detox and recovery in a wide range of healthcare settings, as well as through Phoenix Futures in Wirral, with powerful and transformative results:
“I needed something, somewhere I felt comfortable to escape to, to start meeting people, away from home and other distractions and this fell into my lap just when I needed it. [The group] has not only re-kindled my love of reading but it has provided me with a forum for my thoughts which until this, I internalised. It has connected me with people as I had distanced myself from everyone through drinking and the anxiety following stopping. The books, stories and poetry, whilst not necessarily dealing with my own problems directly, raise issues similar to my own which I have found myself addressing vicariously, assisted by the thoughts, suggestions and ideas of other group members. It has brought structure to my life, something that disappeared because job loss and drinking. Discussions, raised on points from the story or poem, often range far from the subject matter but are just as important for me as they encourage me to think and interact on all levels. Without the reading group, I don’t feel that my recovery would have been possible. Listening to someone tell a story, read a play or recite a poem holds my attention for far longer than anything else can, giving me food for good thoughts and distracting my attention away from my issues and addiction triggers.” – shared reading group member and facilitator
“The reading group at Phoenix House has changed my ideas about what reading is. I’ve noticed that this is the case with many of the community, here; it’s got people interested in literature, especially now that we have a library. People are not embarrassed to say ‘I’ve read a poem’. The reading group is the most participatory of all the groups that provide our ‘structure’. In many of these we feel a bit talked at, but in the reading group we are invited to discuss, to express opinions, and there are no boundaries. People can be involved in whatever way they are comfortable.” – shared reading group member, Phoenix House Bidston
Having built the foundations, we’re very much looking forward to getting shared reading up and running and woven into the fabric of Phoenix Futures.
‘Any healthy man can go without food for two days – but not without poetry’ – Charles Baudelaire
Here at The Reader Organisation we firmly believe that reading poetry (and prose, too) in a group setting – such as the shared reading groups we run across the country – is beneficial for the reader’s mental health and wellbeing. Not only is it a social activity, but it is proven to increase group members’ self-confidence and self-understanding.
Our belief in literature has been reiterated by the Scottish medical community who, in collaboration with the Scottish Poetry Library, have published Tools of the Trade, a poetry anthology which has been gifted to every graduate doctor in Scotland this year.
Whilst some of these poems specifically refer to medical life – Michael Rosen’s ‘These are the Hands’, and ‘A Medical Education’ by Glenn Colquhoun – many also deal with the ideas of moving on, moving forward, and dealing with difficult situations. These literary tools are not only invaluable for the mental health of the new doctors in providing a space to explore common medical situations (both humorous and serious), but there is also a focus on the patients’ view of medical life – and what doctors can do to improve this.
Arguably, many of the graduate doctors may never read the anthology; however its presence both in their lives, and the fact of its actual publication demonstrates how integral poetry is for a person’s wellbeing, regardless of their occupation, interests, or personal situation.
If you have recently graduated, recently overcome an obstacle, or just need a bit of a pick-me-up during the working week, you might find this poem to your liking (and may have heard it recited at a recent graduation ceremony):
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
W. E. Henley
Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall visited the group, which is specifically for people living with dementia, at the reopening of Exeter Library. Alongside group members, the Duchess enjoyed some pieces of great literature as they were read aloud, proving to be a wonderful addition to the Royal tour of the South West.
The Reader Organisation has been working in libraries across the region as part of our work sharing literature with older people. Specifically we run a number of weekly shared reading groups especially for those living with dementia and other memory loss conditions which are aimed at stimulating memories, providing engagement and giving a space for older people to connect with literature they have loved from years past as well as discovering new material in a relaxed and informal atmosphere. There is a growing body of evidence regarding the positive effects of shared reading groups nationwide to the health and wellbeing of those living with dementia which indicates that not only do groups allow members to share thoughts, feelings and memories as they read but also aid in reducing social isolation through their communal setting. More information, including a download of the Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems at the University of Liverpool (CRILS) research report on shared reading as an Intervention for Older People living with Dementia, can be found on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/what-we-do-and-why/older-people-dementia
The Duchess is known for being a literature lover and continues to work to promote the benefits of reading, especially amongst children and young people, and enjoyed reading throughout the day with the official reopening of Exeter Library which includes thousands of new books upon the shelves. As well as listening to the extracts as they were shared her Royal Highness also spoke to Jennifer McDerra, The Reader Organisation’s South West Development Manager, about our work in the area and across the country.
Our first Royal member of the Reading Revolution – perhaps Her Majesty will also be taking part in a spot of shared reading before very long…?
The Reader Organisation currently runs shared reading projects across South West England, in Devon, Cornwall, Plymouth, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. For more information see our website http://www.thereader.org.uk/where-we-work/south-west and to keep up with the latest from our South West team, make sure you follow them on Twitter: @TheReaderSW
Children’s Book Week may be coming to a close but there’s always time to dive into the world of children’s literature. Here at The Reader Organisation, we think that you’re never too old to enjoy a classic piece of children’s literature, and with titles including The Hunger Games trilogy and The Fault in our Stars breaking out of the young adult section into the bestsellers charts overall, age really is no barrier to finding a good book to get stuck into.
The world of literature aimed at children is an ever burgeoning one, with e-readers and the ability to download reading apps onto mobile phones and tablets meaning that young people have more opportunity to read however and wherever they want. However the latest figures from Publisher’s Weekly (February 2014) show that the majority of teenagers generally prefer to read in the classic print format, which is great news for book sales and libraries. In the US, young adult and picture books make up the two bestselling categories for 2013 – demonstrating the wide appeal and range of books coming under the category of children’s literature – and in fact the group that bought the most young adult titles were 18-29 year olds, with data showing that even as book buyers get older they still buy young adult titles for themselves to read as opposed to giving them as gifts for children or grandchildren.
Did you know…that a fifth of the £2.2billion spent on books each year in the UK is spent on children’s books, and around 10,000 new titles aimed at children are published in the UK every year?
Though unsurprisingly the Harry Potter series are thought to be the biggest selling children’s books of all time, the figures are hard to pin down – by 2011, 450 million copies had been sold worldwide but hundreds of other copies sell by the second – the official numbers put The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien at the top of the pile, with 100 million copies sold. The classic tale of Bilbo Baggins’ quest for a share of treasure guarded by a dragon has enchanted kids and adults alike, and was awarded the prize of ‘Best Juvenile Fiction’ by the New York Herald Tribune. The next two most popular on the list are The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, which shows the enduring power of classic books.
Some more fascinating facts about children’s literature…
The Mr Men books – a staple of childhood reading for many people – came to life when the son of author Roger Hargreaves asked him what a tickle looked like. Mr Tickle was the first book to be written, with another 48 titles following. The series has been translated into Mandarin, French, Spanish and Dutch amongst other languages.
Dr Seuss originally planned to spend a week or so writing The Cat in the Hat – it actually took a year and a half to complete.
Amongst the titles that have been banned in parts of America are Winnie the Pooh, Where The Wild Things Are and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the latter of which was said to portray a ‘poor philosophy of life’ to young people.
If you’d like to discover more about the world of children’s literature with expert knowledge from TRO, why not come along to our latest Short Course for Serious Readers which will take you on a Whizz-tour on the wonders that are to be found. Join us on Saturday 12th July at Calderstones Mansion House where we can point you in the direction of some of the best books to read with children just for the fun of it, ranging from brand new treasures to old favourites to rediscover.
Places on the course cost £30/£15 concessions, and we can offer a special 10% discount if you bring a friend who is new to our Short Courses. It’s the perfect way to get ready for The Secret Garden of Stories, our first Children’s Literature Festival this coming August.
To book your place, contact Literary Learning Coordinator Jenny Kelly on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0151 207 7207, or see our website for more information: http://www.thereader.org.uk/courses