Unwinding with a good book maybe the pastime for some, but it is turning into an uncommon hobby with time. Sangeetha Suryanarayanan, an IT professional, felt the same when her two boys wouldn’t read on their own. “When I was working, I would buy books for my kids, with the hope of getting them to read. But, they wouldn’t read on their own,” she says. “I then started reading out to them everyday. I made it a point to spend some time on that. I noticed the difference. They took to reading and now have the habit of reading before bedtime,” she adds.
Sangeetha who was based in Bangalore and has lived in the US for a few years, moved to Kochi in 2005, and started working for TCS (Tata Consultancy Services). She quit her job in 2014 because she wanted to do something in education. She realized that encouraging children to read was something she was interested in. So, she started a reading club at her house.
The Read Club
She invited kids in the neighbourhood and read out stories to them. She would encourage them to read out loud too. “Kids between ages 6 to 12 were coming to the club. I then thought of taking this ahead formally and so, started approaching government schools,” Sangeetha explains. This is how the R.E.A.D club, a social enterprise came about. “R.E.A.D stands for Read, Explore, Ask and Discover. It aims to provide an environment where children can get together to read beyond their curriculum, read more and read better, explore the world through stories, nurture their curious self and discover learning creatively,” she says.
Sangeetha then approached the Government Higher Secondary School, Elamakkara in August 2016 to start reading and story telling sessions in the school. “I spoke to the Principal about what I wanted to do and they happily agreed.” She then spoke to friends and former colleagues who were interested in the idea, raised funds and bought books to give primary school children. “The idea was to create a classroom library that will encourage them to read whenever they want to. The books are available around them. All they have to do is pick one up when they have a break and read,” she says. The R.E.A.D Club has also started sessions at the Little Flower UP School, Pottakuzhy since February this year.
The teachers did not seem to have a problem with the R.E.A.D club being a part of the kids’ daily activities as Sangeetha and her friends worked with the teachers. “Also, we go to the schools once a week and read a book. The teacher usually keeps the lessons from the book and related activities going for a week.” With repetition, kids retain better, Sangeetha maintains. “And when adults read repeatedly to kids, they are eventually encouraged to reach out for a book on their own,” she says.
The objective is to encourage children to read and speak better. Sangeetha enlists help of publications like Tulika, Pratham books, National Book Trust India and Kochi Book Shop to help her select the right kind of books for the children. “A lot of them relate better to picture books and to stories associated with pictures,” she adds.
She plans to approach more schools with time. “Once we help the teachers to get the reading activities started and running smoothly, we move on to another school,” Sangeetha says. She also hopes to help kids learn English sooner with this process. The creative process of learning with games and activities also make them confident, she says. Eventually, Sangeetha also hopes to start language workshops for children and make learning different subjects easier by enabling them to understand English language better.