Heiðrún's Reading friends | "They are absolute geniuses"

"I think it's important that they choose themselves the books they want to read, it increases their interest. I might pick a few books from the library shelves that I think they might be interested in, to narrow down the selection, a bit difficult to pick from all the books in the children's section, and then they pick from that pile. Each child attends once a week, for an hour at a time."

Says Heiðrún Kristín Guðvarðardóttir, who started the project Heiðrún's Reading friends last fall at the Reykjavík City Library in Gerðuberg (Breiðholt neighbourhood). The aim of the project is to help children to read in Icelandic. All the participants have other mother tongues and therefore Heiðrúns sais that automatically some Icelandic teaching sneaks it‘s way into the project as well. The friends reading takes place every workingday and follows the school year, starting in September and ending in May. 

"The children and I take turns in reading, they read their page and then I read the next one because it is also important that they hear the pronunciation. Then we talk about what we were reading. First I ask and then I explain if there is something they did not understand. I use google translate and show them pictures to explain. Then often there is an ,aha, moment!"

Art exhibition and experience visits

Heiðrún, who is a leisure and social worker, as well as a singer, has diverse experience of working with people of various ages. Among other things, she has worked at social center for the elderly in nursing homes and with children in after school program where she staged scenes from a musical. She has also dabbled in art over the years and which she uses it in her program.

"When we are done reading together for about half an hour, the children draw pictures from the content of the books. And just wow! The pictures they draw, I didn't draw this well at that age, they are works of art! Before Christmas, an art exhibition was held in Gerðuberg with the children's pictures from the fall term, and it has already been decided to do another exhibition in the spring."

Heiðrún thinks it‘s important that the children not only learn to read in Icelandic, but also emphasizes that they get to know some of the culture that is offered in Reykjavík. This winter, the children have visited Harpa and also saw the play Fíasól at the Reykjavík City Theatre.

"The children didn't understand everything but they still had a lot of fun. After the show they got to go on stage and meet the actors and see the set, it was so great. As a thank you they drew a picture and gave it to the theater. My first reading student has a role in the play, it was so great to see this cool girl on the stage. These visits, which I prefer to call experience visits, do a lot for the Reading friends project and I hope we will go to at least for a one more before the summer holidays. I would like to take them e.g. Árbær Open Air Museum, there is a lot to see and do for the youngest generation."

Personal relationships important

The children who participate in the Reading friends project live in many parts of the capital area and come from three continents, Europe, Africa and South America. Heiðrún advertised it in the newspapers and on the web, in Icelandic and English, and the response did surprise her.

"The interest was much greater than I had imagined, I myself am reading with 18 children and a volunteer who is with me, Margrét Óðinsdóttir, with 5 children. The original idea was that it would be for 6 - 10 years old, but I couldn‘t say no when asked to read with a 14 year old."

Heiðrún says that it also helped a lot to make personal connections with language comunities, she has good friends from both Vietnam and Ukraine who spread the word amongst friends and families who live in the capital area. Thus the group has gradually grown.

More volunteers needed to read with the children

"Now the situation is that there is a waiting list, but I cannot accept new children unless I get more volunteers to read with them, e.g. retired teachers or other interested people who want to contribute to helping children of foreign origin learn to read in Icelandic. It is not necessary for the person to speak languages other than Icelandic, although some knowledge of English is an advantage. You can always use pictures, google translate and a good gesture to explain. Those who are interested in joining the volunteer group can email me at vinalestur.heidrunar@gmail.com. Hopefully someone will jump on this fun and rewarding project."

says Heiðrún in conclusion, hoping that the project has come to stay as it is clear that the need for it is great.

UpdatedWednesday March 20th 2024, 15:53