Verbal’s Reading Rooms project and Extern have been working together since March 2013 to bring the joys and benefits of shared reading to children and young people who are at risk of entering care, secure care or custody.
Extern adopts a ‘whole family’ approach which recognises and builds upon the families existing strengths and supports the development of new skills and coping strategies for coping at times of challenge and change in their lives. Through their work with children, they aim to:
- Support families to succeed and stay together;
- Keep children safe and reduce offending rates;
- Improve school attendance rates and access to education or employment opportunities;
- Develop and improve emotional wellbeing;
- Increase parental capacity; and
- Increase community involvement and social inclusion.
Extern’s vision is that ‘everyone can make a positive contribution to society’. Tying into Verbal’s own belief that ‘every story matters’, we believe that everyone is equally valid and be equally enabled to contribute to society, share their own experiences, and find their own voice. Reading Rooms uses trained facilitators to share stories and poetry with users, either in a group setting or one-to-one. In each session, participants are encouraged to response to what’s happening in the text, and bring in their own thoughts, reactions and life stories.
One of our young service users, Sophie (pictured), has recently finished a series of reading sessions with Verbal. She was “excited” to attend, stating that she was happy heading over to Verbal on the bus on her first day as “it was her first day and wanted to try it out”. Her favourite story was Roald Dahl’s The BFG, “a big hairy, funny man”, and Sophie really liked Quentin Blake’s illustrations, finding it “fun” to work through a few pages each week with her trained facilitator.
Sophie also read Dahl’s Matilda, who was “really smart” and Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick’s short story Gren’s Ghost (from Once Upon A Place, edited by Eoin Colfer and illustrated by P.J. Lynch). Sophie said that she would she planned to read more Roald Dahl books at home and at school, and enjoyed learning new, big words, such as “employed” and “initiation”.
Mary Fitzpatrick, Project Officer for Reading Rooms: “Sophie has gained so much knowledge and experience in Reading Rooms as well as confidence and self belief. She is the first child to offer to read aloud every single week, and continually appears to engage and enjoy in the conversations each week. I have watched her grow and develop in the last ten months and she has definitely improved on her communication skills and increased her love of reading.
“I have been in the post since November 2016 and therefore working with children and young people for 10 months. Most of our young people have experienced trauma in their short lives for one reason or another. This can stem from family situations, mental, physical and sexual abuse as well as on going disconnection from their communities, schools and peers. Our young people have found it difficult to develop relationships with others and lack self esteem, confidence and self belief.
“Using the bespoke model of Reading Rooms and its unique literature, i.e. Ray Bradbury’s All Summer in a Day to Bernie McGill’s Marked, gives our children and young people a safe space, nurtured environment and an opportunity to talk about the situations and experiences of the characters in the hope that they may find similarities within themselves.”