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Teaching little ones in Tonca community to read
January 1, 2015

Written by Liza

The van pulls to a halt at Tonca, Camara bhat where the 3 of us ( Barkha, Megha and myself) have just reached, armed with library books, mats, activity books, stationary box, a register and lots of patience.

‘Good day teacher’ a voice calls, and I look to see Shaalen, one of Bookworm’s Mobile Outreach Programme students. Within a few seconds, the Bookworm van is surrounded by kids of all sizes, who are scrambling in the boot of the van to help us carry the stationary box, mats and books to the temple space that’s been given for us to use on Wednesday afternoons.

They eagerly help us to lug it all to the little room where the mats are laid out, and quickly arrange all the activity books out on the concrete platform. The rest of the children soon enter, looking for their activity books with their names written boldly on it, and to look at the library books we’ve brought today. About 23 children have gathered by now.

Barkha opens the register to tick off the books that are being returned today, while Megha has brought a scrabble board for the literacy games group. I decide to do some individual reading with the children today.


I start with Ritik – of class 1, who can recognize the alphabets, except for a little confusion with the ‘b’ and ‘d’, which were not too easy for him to distinguish between. He has not learnt to read words as yet. Words like ‘in, who, bear and the’ were a challenge for him.

Now Chaitra came and settled herself comfortably on the floor next to me, with a book she had selected from the graded readers box. Also from Std 1, she too is at the stage of just being able to recognize the alphabets and not read the words. We looked through an alphabet book with pictures of the words. Having recently been introduced to phonics, I thought I’d put it to the test here.

I attempted to show her how the alphabets have certain sounds, and how to vocalize those sounds, when looking at a set of alphabets together, to be able to read the word correctly.

We did this for awhile.

She managed to read the word hen, after a demonstration of the sounds of ‘h’, ‘en’. I continued on, making ‘ch’ sounds for her as the word chair was shown on the page, with its illustration. As we did this, a nagging thought occurred as I began wondering how much she could retain at one sitting.

When we came to the word KEYS in the book, with a nice shiny set of keys shown in the picture, she read the alphabets slowly..k-e-y-s, and then stopped, looking at me.

Wondering why she was taking so long to try the sounds of those alphabets she’d just read, I started making the k sound, as a hint for her to try and read the rest of the word. She looked at the picture long, was thinking, as her grubby little finger touched the picture, and wandered on top of the word. I prompted her to read it, and again she reads them as separate alphabets…k-e-y-s. Losing some of that patience I thought I’d carried along in plentiful with me, I asked her “What is the full word for k-e-y-s?”

She looked at me, her little head slowly turning upwards, and with a bright gleam in her eye says softly.. “Chaabi”.

Not knowing whether to laugh or cry, I realize ‘teaching’, ‘context’ and ‘experience’ are new words for me.

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