Jip has a little garden. He is allowed to dig it himself. And Janneke is helping him. Now the garden has been dug, father says, “I will help you with your garden this afternoon. We will plant seeds. We will plant flowers, and carrots. Just wait until this afternoon.”
Most Dutch people remember the adventures of Jip and Janneke from their childhood and having their books read to them by parents, grandparents or other family members. Unfortunately, this is not the case for every family.
It seems that not all children in the Netherlands have equal chances at school. They don’t all have the same opportunities for their education, even when they are just as smart as the rest. Given equal levels of intelligence, a child’s success depends on the family in which they grow up. If your parents are less educated, and education is not stimulated in the home, this negatively affects your chances of successfully completing your education. Functional illiteracy is a significant social issue since the ability to read has a direct effect on education levels, employment, income and health.
Anne Heinsbroek, the founder of the ReadingExpress (De VoorleesExpress), knows all about this. In 2015, Anne was living in Kanaleneiland, an underprivileged neighborhood in Utrecht where more than 80 percent of residents are not of Dutch descent. She shared an apartment with a Turkish friend whose family, also living in Kanaleneiland, she got to know very well. Her friend’s nephews, ages 4 and 6, spoke only very basic Dutch, and communicating with their mother was also difficult. Intuitively, she came up with the idea of reading to the children. The boys quickly began to enjoy being read to, and this encouraged them to speak more. At that same time, Anne’s sister, Marieke, became a volunteer homework mentor in the same neighborhood. Both sisters were surprised to see how many children there were with a language deficiency, and together they decided to set up the “ReadingExpress” project.
The project supports families with children between the ages of 3 and 8 who have a language deficiency, or where there is a significant risk a child will develop a deficiency. Clients for the project are often referred through the Municipal Health Services (GGD), speech and logopedic centers, and or welfare organizations.
The ReadingExpress runs entirely through the help of volunteers. The volunteers are carefully selected, and given comprehensive training and guidance. Training is given by a paid professional provided through organizations such as the local library or regional welfare organizations.
One of the main principles of the project is to make use of the talents and capabilities of the children’s parents. ReadingExpress volunteers work together with parents to find the best way to stimulate each child’s language development.
In March of 2017, the ReadingExpress joined with other national and regional organizations working toward reducing education deficiency in writing a letter to Edith Schippers, the mediator for the government’s Cabinet selection at the time, to call attention to the need for a national strategy and policies for education partnerships. This group of organizations feels strongly that the key to reducing deficiencies in education is through prevention and in creating equal levels of opportunity in the home environment where children grow up, and where the parents can make a difference for their child. Not by talking about parents and how to get them involved with the school, but rather by talking together with the parents themselves about their child’s development. By asking them what they need to be able to give their children a positive learning environment, and by taking a realistic approach to what can be done. By creating educational partnerships with the parents, children can be stimulated to learn in the- home and ultimately improve their learning abilities.
Jessica Jager is a ReadingExpress project leader in Amersfoort. Before becoming a project leader, Jessica was one of the volunteer readers and an elementary school teacher in Deventer. That experience, as well as being a mother of two small children herself, has taught her how important language development is for children. She relates from her own experience as a reader how keeping a young child’s attention on a story can be a bit of a challenge. A reading volunteer needs to be creative to make a story come to life. That is one of the reasons it is so important to ask the children questions about their interests so the reading selection can have the most effect. Every volunteer is given a library pass so they can take the children with them to the library.
So, what does the ReadingExpress do exactly?
A volunteer and family on the ReadingExpress
The ReadingExpress reaches some 4000 families each year, and has a goal of serving 6000 to 7000 families annually. Right now, the project is active in 100 locaties. The project relies on local grants. It is not currently a permanent part of the education system, although that is one of the goals. The ReadingExpress works mainly as a form of prevention to help in the reduction of language deficiency among children and adults.
In the Netherlands, the ReadingExpress is quite a unique project. Similar projects are active in other countries around Europe, but there are no other projects that do this kind of work on a large scale and with such a large coverage and tested methodology.
If you would like to learn more about the organization, or if reading this article has made you enthusiastic enough to become a volunteer for the ReadingExpress (De VoorleesExpress), please visit their website.
Every year, JCI Eemland sells chocolate letters for charity. For this year, JCI Eemland has set a fantastic goal: to help in giving 50 families on the waiting list in Amersfoort a ReadingExpress package in 2018! Helping one family costs € 250. Would you like support this cause? Read more about our activities and goals on the website: http://www.chocoletterjci.nl/.
Like the idea of selling chocolate letters for the ReadingExpress in your area through your own chapter? Contact us at email@example.com.