As part of CHC’s Church Without Walls initiatives, Harvest Kidz has launched its SMART@Read programme to help children develop a love for reading.
Reading is like taking a voyage across time and distance. Growing up, my family didn’t get to travel much, so I journeyed to faraway places through books. By the time I turned 20, I had been to several cities on different continents—through the books I read.
If reading is fundamental to success in life, then developing a reading habit at an early age is absolutely necessary. No one knows this better than the teachers at Harvest Kidz, City Harvest’s children church. Having helped thousands of children over the years, the Harvest Kidz team has come to realise that studies can be a source of great pressure for these children, particularly if they lack help.
HELPING CHILDREN TO EXCEL IN THEIR STUDIES
Harvest Kidz has been running tuition classes since 1996 (formalised as the SMARTKids Tuition programme in 2010), helping children from lower-income and single-parent families who cannot afford tuition. Without a conducive home environment, the children struggle to focus on their studies and underperform academically; they often end up feeling defeated. Through the programme, Lynn Tan, an associate pastor for Harvest Kidz who oversees the programme, observed that many of these children particularly need help with reading. A fair number struggle not just with English, but also with Mandarin and these children run the risk of losing motivation in their studies altogether.
In August this year, with the relaunch of City Harvest Church’s Church Without Walls initiatives, the Harvest Kidz SMART@Read programme hit its target of 70 volunteer signups almost immediately.
In line with COVID-19 safety measures, the reading programme was conducted via Zoom. The pilot programme began in September 2021 and ends mid-December 2021—a total of 15 weeks. Conducting the reading programme via a digital platform with technical hurdles may not be ideal, but the organising team and the reading volunteers work hand in hand to ensure that the SMART@Read programme is carried out effectively week after week for the 60 children. Thankfully, most of the children are familiar with Zoom by now as they have been logging in for Harvest Kidz online services or for school.
“When we started out this reading programme via Zoom, we knew we were heading into a barrage of technical issues such as weak Internet connection, different ones dropping in and out of Zoom, wrong audio settings and so on. Then there are a couple of children who do not have proper devices and have to read on their phone screens which are very small. All these issues had to be sorted out but as the weeks went by, everyone started to get the hang of it,” says Jackie Tan, a zone secretary for Harvest Kidz. He added, “Through this programme, we were able to identify educational needs that some of these underprivileged children faced and helped to meet those needs.”
Every Tuesday and Thursday evenings, the reading volunteers and children log in and the Harvest Kidz team will pair the children with their assigned reading “teacher” into a breakout room. Both teacher and child will read an assigned book using the share screen function. A physical copy of the books would also be sent to the children. Technical issues aside, the children enjoy their reading sessions and are excited to log in to read each week.
INSPIRING THE LOVE TO READ
Among the volunteers is the team of editors and writers from CHC’s Communications department. When it came down to deciding which initiative the department wanted to adopt, the vote was unanimous.
“Doing a one-off community service activity would have been easier than to commit to something for 15 weeks. But all of us are mothers, and helping the kids read was something meaningful and fulfilling for us,” says Lu Jiahui, 46, head of the Communications Department of CHC. “As communications [department], we’re supposed to be ‘wordsmiths’, so this was close to our hearts.”
Senior writer, Dawn Seow, 36, was assigned to read in Mandarin to two students. “To be honest, it was very hard at the beginning. They were resistant to the language and it was hard for me to motivate them through the screen,” she shared. But engaging young children came naturally to the mother of two young boys. “I injected simple games and fun into the reading and over time, the children became more confident with speaking and reading in Mandarin. I hope I’ve shown them that Mandarin can be enjoyable and not boring.”
For the SMART@Read programme to be successful, it requires teamwork, comprising not just the volunteers and children, but the parents and caregivers as well. As the children are not independent when it comes to schedules and gadgets, the parents and caregivers have had to play a part—be it reminding the children to log in or helping them to switch on the video and audio functions. Thankfully, most of the parents and caregivers have been accommodating and many, grateful to the church.
Says Pastor Lynn, who oversees the SMART@Read programme, “What we are doing to help the children shows that we care. Being an avid reader since young, I recognise the need for us to help these children develop an enjoyment for reading. A reader for life is a learner for life. When we come in to help their children with genuine care and concern, it opens the parents’ hearts to the love and kindness of Jesus.”
Many of the parents have texted Pastor Lynn and the Harvest Kidz team to share their appreciation for the SMART@Read programme.
A caregiver wrote to thank the reading volunteer, saying, “Raveen enjoyed the [Chinese] reading lesson very much. Initially, he was a bit shy, but I could see him open up by the end of the lesson. Thank you so much for arranging this. He is asking to join the English reading sessions as well.”
A mother of two young girls said “Both the girls read me a storybook before bedtime. They broke up the longer words and put the words together to read. It feels wonderful watching them read together!”
Another mother shared in Mandarin, “My daughter said that all the teachers are very encouraging and she is motivated to read more. She is very hungry to learn more, but I don’t know how to teach her. So you are all her angels and I’m so grateful for you!”