Jon Mulkern is a volunteer school reader with our RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme) project in the West of England. Most members work in groups led by volunteer Project Organisers. The RSVP volunteers usually work within a particular geographical area and are involved in one or more areas of activity of their choice.
Recently, Jon shared his volunteering experience and why he loves being a volunteer school reader. Jon tells us all about the positive impact on the children and why he recommends volunteer school reading to others.
“Each person’s volunteering experience is unique, including mine, so I can only speak from my observations. I have volunteered at my local E-Act Academy primary school, South Bristol, for four years. Initially, I volunteered once a week on Fridays, but now I also volunteer on Monday mornings from September to July. Over time, I have become a regular part of the children’s weekly learning pattern, providing them with a sense of stability and security, which is vital to the role.
I became interested in volunteering when my wife received an email about voluntary work. I had a year left until retirement and wanted to find a way to help in the community. I came across a programme that involved reading with school children, which appealed to me since I have a passion for reading, information, and history. However, this programme turned out to be too complex, so I moved on once I completed the training. I met with Sue Anderson from RSVP West, who put me in touch with my current primary school. I started as a volunteer school reader after completing my DBS checks. When my wife asked how my first volunteer reading session went, I said, ‘I love it!’ I still do.
I read with Year 2 children, aged 6-7 years, twice a week, seven children for about 10 minutes each. I enjoy chatting with them about the story and explaining any words they don’t understand, using silly voices and fun activities to make reading more enjoyable. The children are bright, funny, and imaginative, and it’s always a delight to read with them. Each reader has a reading record that needs to be filled out by the volunteer. The date, number of pages read, and a comment (adding a smiley face is always nice!). This comment should always be positive to encourage the children. Any concerns should be raised and discussed with the teacher.
Sometimes, I read with Year 1 children, and we can chat about Sonic the Hedgehog and such like. There are times when I read with Year 5 children I read with three years ago, and it is fantastic to see them grow and develop their reading skills.
I’ve been volunteering for four years now, and even though I’m not a teacher, I enjoy working with children and being a part of the school community. Despite the teachers’ busy schedules, they’ve always been supportive and approachable. The school has always been welcoming, and I’m genuinely grateful for that. My main objective is to provide the children with the best possible experience.
The role is very rewarding and always makes me smile. I was delighted to receive three large cards from the children filled with little notes recently. The positivity and happiness in the school environment is contagious.
Being a volunteer reader suits me because it is about information and learning. I would certainly recommend it – I love doing it. Nothing is more important than young people’s education. You may not get through to every child; however, seeing the transformation in the children you do is amazing. Children always enjoy one-on-one reading sessions and a little chat and lightheartedness. Teachers do an incredible job; every parent should sit in a classroom to appreciate it.
Throughout my previous jobs, I have always found myself instructing others, even if that wasn’t my intended role; as a bus driver, I became the instructor for new drivers. At a camera shop, I taught photography. I love teaching and sharing information with others. Whether about ancient history, science, or mythology, I find ways to make learning fun and engaging. Fate has chosen this as my calling; I draw upon a lifetime of trivia to share with the children, and it works.
I am about my function – it’s not about me, and if my story can inspire others to volunteer as a school reader, that would be wonderful. Ultimately, being a volunteer school reader is about children, reading and the joy of learning.”