I am now a Reading Buddy.
Considering that google reported approximately 21 million hits when I searched on “reading buddies,” it’s hardly a new idea. Somewhere in those 21 million pages, I might possibly find who started the first program, whose success was copied over and over again in schools across the country. At least one of them has been around since 1994. So I’m somewhat surprised I never heard of it before.
I have known of programs pairing adult volunteers with students who struggle with reading. When we moved to Michigan in the fall of 1998, I volunteered in such a program at a nearby school until I found full-time work. But there, it was the students who did the reading, and our role as volunteers was to listen, help with difficult words, and ask questions to check for comprehension. I’ve no idea how much my participation helped the girl I worked with – six weeks is probably not long enough to make a big difference. (They assured me before I started, though, that they were glad to have me even for a limited time.)
In this program, though, I do the reading – at least most of the time. According to the school principal, who presented the idea of the program to our church a few weeks ago, many of the children in his school have no one read to them at home. Most of the children live in poverty, and statistics show that they get read to about a tenth of a percent of the time a middle class child is read to. One of the many websites I looked at said that in households living in poverty, there are often no children’s books in the house, and often no adult able to read them anyway.
I’ve no idea how many hours I read to my boys over the years, or how many hours my father read to us as children, but it’s sad to think of a child getting only a tiny fraction of that time. My own boys are long past the age when I sat and read to them at bedtime (though once in a while my younger son does ask me to read something). I’ve always felt a bit awkward with children until I get to know them (I was very relieved to discover that I didn’t have the same problem with my own children because I’ve known them since birth), but I love books, so I decided this was a program I had to get involved in.
I didn’t know what to expect when I showed up at the school today. Once a scheduling mixup was resolved, I was introduced to a kindergarten teacher, then to a five-year-old girl. Her teacher picked out a few picture books, including one for her to read to me, plus – to my surprise – a couple of educational games.
We were given a table in the hallway, which I quickly decided is far from ideal (the girl was distracted by everyone who went by, even when they didn’t stop to see what we were doing). But I suppose in a school where most students live in poverty, it’s not surprising that there’s not a better place. I read a book to her, and she “read” her book to me. I had been surprised that she was expected to even try, as my sons didn’t read when they started kindergarten, and someone needing a reading buddy could be expected to be below grade level. But she “read” the way pre-readers do, by looking at the pictures and telling what she saw.
Since this program is about instilling a love of reading, I figured that was just fine. (Though I did say each line as it was written in the book, not as a correction but adding to what she had said.) She did an alphabet matching game, which apparently she liked very much as she did it again after playing with a math game, instead of having me read another book. She does know her alphabet, even if she called the xylophone a drum, and identified the quail and the penguin as “bird” – which is of course correct, but doesn’t help with learning the letters P and Q.
The principal assured us, when he came to our church, that our reading buddies will look forward to our return each week. (That’s part of what motivated me to sign up, I have to admit.) As awkward as I still feel with a child I don’t really know yet, my little buddy seemed to enjoy the time I spent with her. So I look forward to seeing her again next week, and reading some more books. And perhaps by the end of the year she can really read one to me.