Several weeks ago, I walked into a first grade classroom, excited about getting to know 26 enthusiastic kids and anxious to help them with reading. It didn’t take long for me to be reminded why volunteering with beginning readers is so rewarding.
On my first day in a classroom this year, I began working with students to see how many sight words they knew. A few of the kids did pretty well, and I could tell someone at home had been working with them. There was a confidence and pride in their accomplishments. But it became clear after just an hour there that many of them needed some extra help and encouragement.
I sat with Emily*, a little girl who was very quiet, almost scared of me. We went through the list of sight words and she could only get through part of it. Her confidence was low, and it seemed like she was embarrassed or sad because she wasn’t very successful. I gave her a list of 10 words to work on at home. The next week when I worked with her again, she was still struggling with the same words, so we began practicing them together, spelling them and saying them, and then writing the words while saying each letter out loud: “W-H-E-R-E, where,” “T-H-A-T, that,” “W-H-A-T, what.”
After doing that a few times, we went through the whole stack of sight words again. She quickly read all the words she knew the week before, but then she paused when we got to one of the harder words we had been working on. I could see discouragement in her eyes. Then I asked her to spell it out loud. She slowly spelled the word, and I could almost see the wheels turning in her brain.
Suddenly a smile came over her face. She beamed with pride and said, “Where!” We went through the rest of the list and she got them all. It was like we solved the puzzle. We broke the code and her confidence grew. The joy in my heart may have exceeded the pride on her face, and I couldn’t wait until the next week when I would have the chance to work with her again.
As the church, we have the opportunity to invest in these kids and help them be ready – ready to learn, ready to read, ready to be successful in school, ready to graduate, and most importantly, know they are loved.
Helping kids with sight words can have a huge impact. If these kids can memorize those tricky words, everything they do in the classroom will be easier. But it’s so much more than that. It’s amazing how a little encouragement and a smile can inspire a child to work harder. For them to have another positive, caring adult in their lives means so much, and it’s such an easy thing to do. We help them find success, which really feels good for them. It also feels good to be part of that journey with them as a literacy mentor.
That smile on Emily’s face is permanently engraved in my mind and in my heart. I have discovered a precious treasure in these kids, and I am blessed to be a part of their lives each week.
Find out how you can be a literacy mentor and change a child’s life.
*Name has been changed.