For those with little time available, there is a summary at the end of this article and, to keep things as short as possible, links to particular aspects of this big project that you may be interested in.
Children’s Book Network is now in it’s tenth year of working with children who do not have books, barely know how to read – and often don’t really seem to care. But they do. They turned out in sometimes overwhelming numbers in the pre-pandemic days when we were able to gladly accept them into fun and stimulating reading workshops.
They are typically aged between 10 and 12 years of age and we are always surprised by how many boys show up. Younger children accompany their brothers and sisters – and they want stories too. We had a team of teenagers who assisted us, a dedicated core of facilitators who enlivened the themes and huge inspiration from the children themselves. The core activity was always – above all – reading and learning to love books.
We also had music. We had storytelling and role-play. We had exciting activities like excavating an overgrown garden and finding hidden treasure. We had visiting experts on subjects as diverse as Archaeology and Zoology. Once, we had most of the UCT Choir sing to the children … We had book clubs and books to read quietly when all the storytelling and artwork and singing was finished. We had Reading Toolboxes to assist new helpers to set up their own book groups.
Then came Covid. We had to change. Change, but we will never give up!
How can we do this again? How can we bring reading and books to children in desperate need of both stories and reading skills; and – most particularly in need of encouragement to access their IMAGINATION.
Last year, during lockdown, we were severely frustrated and restricted by not being able to be in direct contact with children we think of as ‘our children’ in the Stanford area. We quickly developed a series of reading packs that can be found here – https://www.childrensbook.co.za/home-reading-ideas –
and which kept the children at least partially focused. (We were not alone. The local schools and other caring organizations were also sending learning materials and making sure that the children were all fed and not going hungry.) We handed out 20+page packs of stimulating material to 100 children every week for 17 weeks and to 50 of the older ones for the rest of the year. It was a huge amount of work, and a staggering amount of photocopying – over 50 000 pages of it.
Now for something completely different, that brings together all our ideas, our considerable amount of specially developed reading material and all the creativity we can muster. We will follow the dream. It might be by a different route – but we are heading in the same direction.
Bringing Children to Books and Books to Children.
This is the plan:
There is surely no need to say that all of these activities depend on the pandemic and how it affects us all in the coming months and years. We aim to have much smaller groups of children and many more book events. This will not only be in keeping with Covid regulations, but also give the children more in individual attention.
We will offer training to unemployed young women (18-35) in Stanford and Mitchell’s Plain.
Instead of large workshops, which are expensive to run and involve feeding and transporting the participants, we will now be local to more groups of children, more often.
We will work closely with other reading-passionate organizations, libraries, schools (where they can) and individuals who care about children and reading.
We will hope for as much volunteer input as possible, but we will pay proper stipends r=to people who attend and qualify at our training courses. Support staff will also be paid – otherwise they cannot give the time we need.
We will provide reading packs and toolboxes to the qualified trainees and also additional training through Zoom and other media
Backup will also consist of recordings of good readers dramatizing the specially written stories and extracts from books.
We will continue the rt and music input that back up our reading themes – and find ways to do this remotely
TO SUM UOP
• Smaller workshops run more frequently
• More of our book clubs run by local facilitators
• Support staff and facilitators will be paid appropriately
• Training of facilitators – beginning in Stanford in June-July
• Training begins in Mitchell’s Plain on 1 September 2021
• Evaluation of the whole project by November 2021
• Launch of the big picture in January 2022
FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS
In July, we will be working with local Stanford organizations on a prototype festival with books and reading, art, dance, choir, and recorder band. This might form a blueprint for other such festivals in school holidays.