By Ronald Chanetsa
29% of South African children are considered illiterate in Grade 4 i.e., they cannot read for meaning and understanding in any language. A study revealed that an alarming 51% of South African households do not have a single reading book suitable for children in that household.
Penreach Reading Camp is an after-school programme that seeks to promote early literacy, exposure to books and keep children constructively engaged and off the streets. The programme brings books into homes and contributes to improving reading in both Home and First Additional Languages. Camps are coordinated by a volunteer, who ultimately volunteers their time and space.
A Reading Camp can take place on a veranda, under a tree, in a garage, church, shed or on a lawn, depending on what is at the volunteer’s disposal. There are no qualifications that the volunteer needs to have, except for the ability to read and write. Depending on the availability of the volunteer, Reading Camps run at least once a week, while some are available two to three times a week, some even run on a daily basis and during weekends.
Although Reading Camps are aimed at children in Grades R-3, older and younger children in higher or lower grades are still welcome. The graded-readers supplied are to cater for different reading levels, rather than school grade or age. Older children who are fluent readers may assist others and serve as Reading Buddies (explained below).
Starting a Reading Camp
In order to establish a Reading Camp the Penreach way, the following applies with minor adjustments depending on the individual volunteer, or group of volunteers:
- Recruitment: Volunteers are recruited through various ways, which include: word of mouth by other volunteers, parents or teachers. Penreach approaching a school, selling the idea, and getting an audience with parents in the community. Organisations such as churches selling the idea to congregation or parents approaching Penreach to be a volunteer. It is important in the recruitment process to ensure that the volunteers are known and trusted members of the community for the protection and safety of children.
- Training: Once recruited, training is arranged for the volunteer(s). The training has been simplified into a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation with simple, easy to follow guidelines as well as pictures and videos of existing Reading Camps. The training suits both groups and individuals.
- Book Bank: Once the volunteer(s) completes the training, they are provided with a Penreach Book Bank, which is a box of reading material. More specifically, the Book Bank contains the following:
- Graded readers from our in-house bookshop, Penreach Books in Homes
- A snapshot of a suitable daily programme
- Stationery for both the volunteer and children (e.g. plain paper, exercise books, crayons, pencils etc.)
- Old magazines (for cutting and pasting purposes)
- An inventory list
- A register template for attendees
- Ad-hoc book and stationery obtained from donations
- Reading Buddies: Learners who are older or in higher grades are welcome at the Reading Camps. Some of them are related to the attending learners, stay in the same household or are their friends hence they need not be separated. Older learners, who are fluent readers, may assist the volunteer with the younger learners and their reading. The graded readers cater for different levels of reading.
- Learn through play: Reading Camps are not only focused on reading, as part of the training, but volunteers are also encouraged to allow for playtime as an informal learning method. This is especially significant in rhymes, song and poetry recitation.
- Journals: Children are encouraged to write during the session, younger children colour and draw. This is important not only in improving handwriting but in developing fine motor skills.
- Storytelling: Folklore and fairy tales are an important aspect of the Reading Camps. Stories that children are familiar with can be given new life by encouraging children to get into character and act them out. The children take turns in re-telling parts of a story.
- Building Relationships with schools: Once a Reading Camp has been established, it is the responsibility of the volunteer to inform the nearest primary school(s) of the existence of the Reading Camp for the following reasons:
- Teachers may recommend particular children staying near the volunteer to receive special attention, given that most schools have an average teacher-learner ratio of 1:50 as opposed to the recommended 1:35, learners, therefore do not receive adequate individual attention.
- The school may assist the volunteer with relevant material and in some cases, even assist with photocopying resources.
- The school may use Reading Camps as one of the strategies for improving their literacy performance.
The Reading Camp programme took Penreach around three years of trial and error. In those three years, 88 Reading Camps were established. Once the programme was polished, the Reading Camps became a phenomenon as the number of volunteers rose exponentially in 2018 alone from 88 to 301.
Currently, about 13 000 children are benefitting from the programme. Recruitment is ongoing for Penreach as we work towards our objective of helping children read with meaning and understanding in Home- and English Language by the end of Grade 3.