A step into a community of readers

Sarojini Hegde

(Translated by Jane Sahi)

Library session in school – children choosing what they want to read and who they want to read with.

We have been doing library activities in the nearby Government Primary School. In this school there are children from the 1st to the 5th standard. Most of the children are from migrant families and their parents work as daily wage labourers. Some children are Hindi speakers and some are from North Karnataka and speak a dialect of Kannada that is different from the one spoken in Bengaluru. There are a few children who have recently dropped out of English medium private schools to join the government school. We have been doing library activities and projects with these children of mixed ages, languages, background and abilities for over three years now.

We began by starting classroom libraries and took Kannada, Hindi and English books of different kinds. The children had easy access to the books on open shelves and they were able to read them whenever there was free time or during a daily period for reading. Two children took turns to be responsible for the books.

After three months the children started taking books home. Every two weeks the children exchanged books. They enjoyed listening to and re-telling stories, reading the books, learning poems and looking at pictures.

During the pandemic, the children were forced to stay at home. We were able to give each family a book bag with photocopied materials in different languages and some craft activities. Later we were able to distribute some books and then children borrowed and returned books regularly.

In July and August this year we did a project about flowers and patterns. We were fortunate that the children were able to come and sit in an open space. The project included learning through observation about flowers, craft and language activities such as listening and reading stories about flowers, learning poems and songs, writing their own six word poems about flowers and making up and performing dialogues in the voices of flowers, insects, birds and the wind to share what they had learnt about flowers.

In the library we kept some story cards and books about flowers. I read them aloud to the children and later they re-told the stories to children who were not present at the read aloud. The children wanted to borrow these story cards but their format and size were not suitable for taking home though they work very well in the classroom. Many children wanted to read these stories by themselves at home, so we photocopied them. Each one was different – one was a folk tale, another was an imaginary story narrated by flowers and insects and there was one on how people and birds treated flowers. Children like especially to read by themselves a story that they have been told.

Children performing a small drama to show what they learnt about birds pollinating flowers.

Here is how Janaki, a girl in the 4th standard described what happened when she took the story home.

When I went for tuition I left the story card at home and my mother read it. My mother was happy and liked the story. She said, “Who gave you this story?”

I read the story to my friends. They liked it very much and they said, “Bring more stories like this.” I and my friends did a drama from the story. Even when I wanted to go for lunch my friends called to me, “Bring the story – let’s do a drama.”

In the textbook there are so many things to read. We have to read and read and remember. Then we have to do homework but we don’t enjoy it. We enjoy stories. We read the stories to each other. While reading, if anyone makes a mistake they have to start again from the beginning. After they have read a little, they have to tell what happened. Then we give each other dictation – we make mistakes, but we all enjoy. At home, I like to read with my friends.

The author has been working in non-formal education for more than 20 years and is particularly interested in supporting children to read and tell stories. She can be reached at [email protected].

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