The joy of reading
A UNICEF-supported campaign aims to promote a love of books amongst school children.
After listening to a senior student read them “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” groups of youngsters helped each other write their answers about the story they’d just heard on large sheets of paper. Once they finished, they moved on to the illustrations, drawing and colouring as well as crafting ants, grasshoppers and food out of modelling clay.
These young students, from Prathom 1-4 at Watmuangwan School in Bang Ban district of Ayutthaya, were enjoying an extra lesson in the library after their lunchbreak – a story-telling session as part of the UNICEF-supported A Book A Week campaign.
Each group was made up of 4-5 students from Prathom (Grades) 1-4, who would help each other answer questions to show that they understood the story. The next session, involving crayons and modelling clay, would reveal how they interpreted the story, which describes how a hungry grasshopper begs for food from an ant when winter comes and is refused. The tale portrays moral lessons about the virtues of hard work and planning for the future.
“The activity held in the library is meant to encourage small children to spend time with books and eventually become interested in reading. The goal is to build critical thinking in them,” said Pitcha Pengpong, a teacher at Watmuangwan School.
Watmuangwan School recently welcomed a group of visitors from UNICEF and the Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC) to observe A Book A Week, which is designed not just to promote reading amongst young children but to also enhance their critical thinking skills.
Watmuangwan School is among the 126 public and private schools that participated this year in the campaign, a three-year collaboration between UNICEF, OBEC and Tops Thailand. Kicking off with 14 schools back in 2019, the campaign is a part of the Every Child Can Read project.
Reading activities are left to the schools to organize and fit to their schedules and facilities.
At Wattanodtia School in Uthai district, another participating school visited on the same day, reading has been incorporated in classes. In their regular classes that morning, younger students started to learn the alphabet, vowels and how to form words, while the older kids in the class next door were instructed on synonyms and antonyms through word cards. More senior students practised spelling through dictation and then wrote sentences by themselves. The goal of all these activities is to help them read and capture the essence of a story.
Over the past two years, due to the pandemic, some schools decided against keeping all the books in the library and instead distributed a set of reading materials to each classroom, which were then rotated every so often.
A young student called Pete dug through a pile of books at the back of the class and presented one on energy saving to the visitors. Despite having only learnt to form words less than half an hour ago and being able to read just a few words in the book, he was excited to show it off.
“I like this car and the truck, and the colour of the illustration,” said the boy shyly, pointing to a green car, yellow truck and the vibrant city scene with which he was unfamiliar.
Orapin Butngam, Pete’s teacher, said her younger students can barely understand the texts, but they all love the vivid pictures.
However, she continued, while younger students tend to choose a book for their visuals, the older ones often pick a title based on their interests. Some would come to her, asking her to teach them how to pronounce new words they had come across in a book.
She was particularly proud of the progress made by one of her students, a Burmese boy who was speaking Thai fluently after less than a year in class, despite his parents being unable to read or write in Thai. The boy had started school at the kindergarten level and spent extra time reading and in intensive classes with teachers.
She added that picture books were not only helping her young students read but also encouraged them to learn more outside the classroom. “Those who can now read are not the ones with the highest scores, but those who simply love reading.”
Rangsun Wiboonuppatum, Education Officer at UNICEF Thailand, praised participating schools for adopting a child-centred approach by incorporating reading sessions in class and organizing active reading activities to cultivate reading habits in young children.
While reading is part of early primary classes, Rangsun said, these activities can enhance the existing curriculum. “The positive experiences these young students have and their perspective towards reading will be with them forever.”