Getting children reading

By Eloise England and Roshni Makan

Envision has shown us the power of opting in. So much has happened just because nine of us decided to do something. 

For our project, we tackled child literacy in Birmingham. Through younger siblings, and volunteering with children, we'd seen that a lot of children have trouble with reading. We thought it was an issue that was generally getting overlooked.

We all liked that we got to pick the issue for our project. Some people don’t volunteer because it doesn't feel relevant to them. We really cared about child literacy, so Envision was an exciting opportunity. It was a chance to make a difference to something that mattered to us.

Our first idea was to work with parents, but then we discovered that the reason the problem exists is because parents aren’t engaged with their children’s reading. That’s why we decided to work with schools instead.

We wanted to do weekly reading sessions with pupils, and also deliver assemblies to get children excited about books.

Pitching our idea to corporate volunteers at Pitch4Change was really helpful. We had a lot of different ideas in our heads but Pitch4Change helped us prioritise them. The volunteers really caught on to our project, and said they thought we could make a real difference. That’s when we realised that what we had was really good.

Speaking in front of people is my biggest fear, so I was petrified at Pitch4Change. I’d never done a presentation before that – I’d always been let off because I got so upset. But afterwards I just wanted to get up and do it again! Something had just shifted, somehow. I remember thinking, 'right, I can do anything now!' 

We all worked really well as a team. It was nice to each feel like we were a piece of a puzzle, but also have the opportunity to be like ‘this is what I think the puzzle should look like.’

We started out running weekly reading sessions in schools. It was lovely seeing the children improve each time. One little girl didn’t seem that interested at the start, and I felt like I was dragging her through it a bit. But then on the fourth week, she jumped up when I walked in and shouted "my reading volunteer is here!"

It felt amazing to realise that we were genuinely engaging them.

You can’t tell someone to read so it was important that we got them wanting to do it for themselves. The sessions proved so effective that we're actually going to continue them next year. 

We began our school assemblies to coincide with World Book Day. We encouraged pupils to go to the new Birmingham library, and we did an interactive quiz about books to make it engaging.  At the end of the first one, we asked ‘who’s going to go to the library?’ and all the children’s hands shot up. It felt amazing that we had actually got our message across. After that one assembly, we felt really spurred on to do the next one.

We just thought 'we can do this, we can inspire children.' It’s difficult, but it’s doable. 

One of the assemblies we did was at a local Special Educational Needs school. We wanted to make our project really inclusive and bring reading to as many children as possible. The pupils there were really engaged, and the school actually organised a library trip after our visit. The headteacher told us that they’re going to make reading a real focus now, so we’ve definitely started something there.

We also donated books to the Special Educational Needs school. We're all really pleased that we've left that legacy. The sustainability element is really important to us.

We all developed self belief from how well everything went. And I'd say the confidence I got at Pitch4Change has been life-changing for me. I love books and have always wanted to teach English, but my fear of speaking in front of people meant I didn’t think I could. Then, after Pitch4Change I realised that it was something I was capable of. And with each assembly we did, I just got more and more sure.

The Envision programme is challenging but it’s so worth it, and it stays with you forever. If everybody did it, the world would be such a better place.