PHONE: 03 5381 0122

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Lorraine Merton

Positive Reading Experiences

I had a most delightful phone conversation recently with a reading buddy. Olivia was referred to the Reading Buddies Program via Centre for Participation and attended a morning tea and information/training session to find out what was involved in being a reading buddy. She chose the school in which she would like to volunteer and we visited for an orientation session and arranged a time when she could regularly visit to listen to children read.

After her first reading buddies’ session, Olivia phoned to tell me about her ‘first day on the job’. She was reading with children in a prep class and found the children to be absolutely delightful. One little reluctant reader announced that she didn’t like reading and didn’t want to read. Olivia was able to call upon some of the ‘tips for reading with children’ that were covered in the Reading Buddies training session.

She began to engage the student by looking at and talking about the pictures in the book. This progressed to finding words or letters on the pages that the student could recognise and ended up with the student, somewhat hesitantly, reading her reader with her new reading buddy. At the end of the session, the reluctant little reader left with a smile and Olivia left with a great sense of satisfaction and delight and very much looking forward to the next session together.

I suspect that one of the reasons why some children struggle with reading or don’t like reading is because they have not experienced the delight of that special one-on-one time with an adult where they engage in the wonderful world of stories.  Reading to young children is not simply an exercise in hearing and understanding words, it can be a deeply caring and bonding experience between the adult and the child. With such a positive experience generated around a book, reading becomes a delightful experience and hopefully instils a love of reading in the child.

Many children miss out on this special reading time with an adult.  This is one of the reasons why we have a Reading Buddies Program in schools. It gives those reluctant little readers a positive experience with an adult where books are no longer a threat but a source of enjoyment.

We have never yet had too many Reading Buddies in our local schools. If you or anyone you know would like to share your love of reading with a child in a local primary school, please contact us. We are looking for more reading buddies for the beginning of the 2020 school year, so now is the time to start thinking about whether you could spare an hour a week to make a difference in a young person’s life.

Please contact us at The WSMLLEN Office:
info@llen.com.au  Phone 03 5381 0122
Or you can register your expression of interest online at: https://www.llen.com.au/reading-buddies/

Volunteering is Good for Your Health

A quick Google search can find numerous articles and scientific studies that indicate that volunteering is good for our health. This is more particularly so for people over the age of 50.

Some of the health benefits of volunteering include:

Lower Blood Pressure
A study from Carnegie Mellon University in the USA found that adults over 50 who volunteered regularly were less likely to have problems with high blood pressure than non-volunteers. One of the researchers concluded that volunteering might increase the physical activity in people who would otherwise be inactive and this, in turn, could reduce stress and improve heart health. 

Better Sleep
The Stony Brook University School of Medicine surveyed more than 4,500 Americans and found that volunteering had an impact on sleep. The survey indicated that volunteers have less trouble sleeping, less anxiety and better friendships and social networks.

Longer life
A study from the University of Michigan looked at the mortality rates of altruistic volunteers and found that those who volunteered regularly had a lower mortality rate than non-volunteers and those who volunteer for self-interest reasons.

Helpers High
Studies have shown that those who volunteer have a similar physical experience to people who exercise vigorously or meditate. This is because the body releases ‘feel-good’ endorphins during positive social contact with others. There was a ‘catch’ associated with achieving this ‘high’. To gain the benefits, the volunteers needed to be involved in direct contact with other people and must be altruistic, without a selfish motivator, like money, being involved.

Numerous articles suggest there are even more benefits to be gained from volunteering which contribute to better health and wellbeing.  Some of these include:

  • Increased levels of physical activity
  • Increased satisfaction and optimism
  • A greater sense of purpose
  • A more positive outlook on life
  • Increased social connection
  • Increased cognitive function
  • Decreased levels of depression and anxiety.

Some of these studies also pointed out that, the health benefits of volunteering were achieved by volunteering for 200 hours per year, (4 hours per week).
Imagine what a difference it would make in our world if everyone over 50 volunteered for 4 hours a week! Not only would our society benefit from the skills and experience being injected into our communities but the volunteers themselves would experience improved health, reducing the burden on our medical system.

People who volunteer do so for a number of reasons. The primary reason is often that they want to make a difference or help others, but it is also OK to gain some benefits for ourselves. Sometimes the satisfaction of knowing that we are helping someone provides sufficient benefit in itself. The additional benefits of volunteering then become an added bonus.

At Wimmera Southern Mallee LLEN we have volunteering opportunities that have the potential to improve the health of our volunteers:

  • Our Reading Buddies program provides the opportunity for volunteers to listen to children read, on-on-one for an hour a day, one or more mornings a week in a local school.
  • Our MATES Mentoring Program matches adult volunteers with young people in local schools. Mentors catch up with their mentee for one hour a fortnight for a whole year. This small amount of time (just 24 hours over a whole year) can make an enormous difference in the life of a young person.

Whether you are over 50 or under, we would love to hear from you if you would like to make a difference in a young person’s life.

See more on our reading Buddies Page and our MATES Mentoring Page

The Ice-cream Shop

A recent conversation and pretend-play session with my three-year-old granddaughter centred around an ice-cream shop. Annie is a little chatterbox and loves ‘pretend play’.  She will spend hours occupying herself creating conversations between her toys and loves to engage any willing members of the family in her imaginative world.

“Would you like to come to my ice-cream shop, Grandma?” I didn’t need a second invitation to spend some quality time with this special little person. I was offered a range of ice-cream flavours. The conversation went like this: “You could have mango, strawberry, blueberry, chocolate, vanilla, pineapple, or plumb.”
I asked, “Do you have ginger ice-cream? Ginger ice-cream is my favourite.”
“Well, no Grandma, I don’t have ginger ice-cream but I could ask my cook to make some.”

While the cook was making the ginger ice-cream, Annie announced that she would sing to me so, with a little toy accordion, she squeezed out a tune and made up a song about Grandma coming to her ice-cream shop. At the conclusion of the performance and after a round of applause from a delighted grandma, she announced, “I’ll go and see if the cook has finished making your ice-cream now, Grandma.” She promptly returned with my special order of ginger ice-cream. I licked my ice-cream with great approval. “This is the most delicious ice-cream I have ever tasted. How do you make such beautiful ice-cream?”

To my surprise, this three-year-old replied, “The ingredients are sugar, eggs, cream, vanilla and ginger and I mix them. I don’t cook them, I just mix them.” I was impressed on three counts, firstly that she knew the word ‘ingredients’, secondly that she could list a range of ingredients that were entirely appropriate to make ice-cream and thirdly that she knew that ice-cream didn’t need to be cooked. Our conversation continued, “Do you think your cook could make me another ginger ice-cream?”

“Well no, Grandma, he can’t.” “Why not,” I asked.  ‘Well he died,” was the totally unexpected reply. “Oh dear,” I said. “That is terrible. Why did he die?” “Well Grandma, he just didn’t eat healthy food.”

The pretend play continued for over an hour with many servings of ice-cream, bad batches of ice-cream that had to be thrown out, a visit to the ice-cream shop by Grandpa and endless chatter.

I was enthralled by this pretend play experience and amazed by the imagination, creativity, knowledge and language skills of a three-year-old to be able to engage in such a detailed conversation. By the age of three, this little one has mastered complex sentence construction and can correctly use nouns (singular and plural), pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs in various tenses, along with clauses joined by conjunctions in a sequence.

Not only is all of this grammar in place, but there is also an understanding of the importance of eating healthy food and ingredients to make ice-cream! I wonder what else is being stored in that little mind.

In visiting schools in our local region, we have heard that some schools are introducing ‘pretend play’ into the prep classrooms because, increasingly, children are coming to school with limited experience of pretend play. I wonder if its absence is having an adverse effect on our children. Pretend play is a vital part of language development for young children.  In our increasingly fast-paced society and with the proliferation of electronic devices, perhaps we are not finding as much time to spend on the simple things like talking, reading and pretending with our children.

…and I am becoming increasingly aware of the valuable contribution grandparents can make in the lives of young children. While parents are extremely busy with careers and the ever-increasing need to work more, the one thing that many grandparents have, especially those who have retired, is time. I am convinced that the best inheritance I can leave to my children, is to invest time in my grandchildren.

Reading Buddies — It’s simple

How to become a reading buddy in three simple steps. The process is really simple and you will be supported all the way.

Reading Buddies are volunteers who listen to children read, one-on-one on a regular basis at the child’s school. The aim is to foster a love of reading and assist children to develop their reading skills.

Step 1 – Contact us

The first step in volunteering to be a reading buddy is to contact Lorraine at the LLEN office during business hours. The simplest way is to phone 03 5381 0122.
If you can’t phone during business hours, you can lodge an expression of interest online via our website at https://www.llen.com.au/reading-buddies/
Lorraine will respond either by phone or email to arrange a time to catch up in-person (for about half an hour) at the LLEN office.

Step 2 – Meet with us

During this catch-up, you can discuss when, where and why you would like to be a reading buddy and run through some tips for reading with children.
If you don’t already have a Working with Children Check, Lorraine can assist you to apply.

Step 3 – Visit the school

After you meet with Lorraine, she will make arrangements for you to visit the school where you have chosen to volunteer. She will take you to the school or meet you at the school, introduce you to the school staff and run through an orientation session to show you where to go and what to do.
This is where you arrange a time which suits both you and the school for your regular visits.

(Steps 2 and 3 may be able to be completed in one session. This will depend on which school you choose.)

That’s all it takes!

Once you have gone through these three steps, you simply visit the school at your arranged time each week and enjoy the delights of engaging with children as you listen to them read!

Spaghetti, Spaghetti, Spaghetti!

My son was preparing lunch for my grandchildren, while their mother was away for the day. He was catering for an 18-month old, a three-year old and four-year old.  He announced, “What do you want for lunch today?” and then proceeded to list the options which included some left-overs from the day before and some quick-and-easy options. The list was something like, “There is chicken and corn soup, some salad and ham, or you could have a wrap or a peanut butter sandwich or spaghetti on toast and there are bananas, apples and mandarins in the fruit bowl.”

I was satisfied that, in the absence of their health-conscious mother, this was a reasonable menu that provided some healthy eating options from a range of food groups.

The three-year-old and four-year-old were well able to articulate what they wanted and what they didn’t want. The three-year-old clearly stated, “I don’t like chicken and corn soup. I want ham and salad in a wrap,” while the four-year-old chorused, “Spahgetti, Spaghetti, Spaghetti! I want Spaghetti on toast!”

The 18-month old, whose vocabulary consisted of only a few words such as ‘Mum’, ‘Dad’ and ‘no’, was unable to verbalise his menu preference. He had only been walking for about four months, but suddenly and silently disappeared at lightning speed through the kitchen and into the pantry. He emerged within a few seconds carrying a can of spaghetti, making it quite clear what he wanted for lunch. Although he was unable to speak, he had a clear grasp of the conversation and knew exactly what was being discussed – spaghetti was on the menu for lunch and that was what he wanted. He was also well aware that the spaghetti came in cans and where it was stored in the pantry.

This simple little action of a toddler running into the pantry and coming out with a can of spaghetti, demonstrated clearly what Let’s Read program advocates.  Reading (and speaking) to your children from birth is vital for the development of their language. Long before children can speak, they are listening, learning words and developing their vocabulary.  It stands to reason, that the more words they hear, the more words they will learn and understand. There are numerous ways to increase the number of words our babies and toddlers hear. This can be done by constantly talking and describing what you are doing during the day, making a running commentary of the mundane activities of the day, singing songs to your children and reading stories. Exposure to language in the early years is a great investment in a child’s education and increases their readiness for school.

My 18-month old grandson was given his menu preference for lunch that day, and unsurprisingly, because he was able to choose what he wanted, devoured a generous helping of spaghetti while I sat back and contemplated the wonderful capacity of the human brain and the importance of generous helpings of exposure to language to build healthy young minds.

MATES make a difference

Life changing stories from our MATES Mentoring Program.

Stephanie and Maureen

Both mentors and mentees get a lot out of the program.  Being in her 70’s and never having had children of her own, ‘Maureen’ was quite apprehensive at the start to be matched with a teenager!  Maureen often says she feels she gets more out of being with Stephanie than she gives.  Having never been married or had her own children, Maureen always beams when talking about Stephanie and their mentoring relationship. She often talks about how much she has learnt about a younger generation from her relationship with Stephanie.  Maureen is a wonderful positive role model for Stephanie. She is involved in so many committees and volunteers her time to so many causes.

Maureen and Stephanie enjoy volunteering at the ‘Driver Reviver Roadside Coffee stop.’  Here they work together making coffee for travellers passing by.  Stephanie enjoys this immensely and Maureen has happily taken Stephanie’s sister along, for this activity.  Stephanie says “Maureen is like my grandma. She is very caring and she takes what she does seriously, especially volunteering. I look up to her, she’s inspiring and like my best friend.  I could talk to her about anything and I trust her completely.  Maureen has encouraged me to do so many things I would never have done before which I am so grateful for. Without Maureen in my life I would still be really shy, wouldn’t trust many people and still be disorganised!”

Tony and Mandy

‘Mandy’ mentors ‘Tony’ and she has opened up a whole new world for him. Tony has learning difficulties and leads a very sheltered life. When Mandy entered his world everything opened up for Tony.  Mandy created opportunities for Tony to experience activities that he had only ever dreamt of.  He desperately wanted to learn how to fish, so Mandy organised a member of the local angling club to take them both out fishing. They caught four fish and finished the day off with a family BBQ. That day, Tony went fishing for the first time, caught his first fish and had his maiden voyage in a boat.  On one occasion, Mandy had taken Tony to play tennis. She had her husband be the ball boy so they wouldn’t waste their precious hour chasing the ball. While there, Tony noticed the bowling green but he didn’t know what lawn bowls was. Mandy went beyond the call of duty and had the Ladies President of the Bowling Club give them both lessons on the green.

(Names of mentors and mentees in this article have been changed to protect the privacy of participants.)

MATES – Expanding Horizons

Life changing stories from our MATES Mentoring Program.

Shane and Mark

‘Shane’ was a young man who had plenty of challenges and was enrolled in a school re-engagement program.  He was matched with ‘Mark’, a local business owner with a big heart.  Mark quickly became a significant positive influence on Shane and opened up a new world for him.  Mark took him water-skiing, took an interest in Shane’s participation in football and hosted him for a work experience placement.  Shane asked him for an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic.  After speaking with teachers at Shane’s school, Mark offered him an apprenticeship.  Two years on, Shane is thriving in a positive work environment and is well on his way to becoming a fully qualified mechanic.

Jenny and Wendy

‘Jenny’ was another young person with plenty of challenges in her life.  She lived in a very small town with her single mum and seven siblings.  Jenny was paired with ‘Wendy’.  Wendy is a happy person with an endless positive attitude.  She provided Jenny with plenty of new experiences such as visiting arts performances in Horsham and encouraged her to focus on her completing her secondary education.  With Wendy’s support, Jenny was elected school captain and also won the local Lion’s Club Youth of the Year award.  Jenny also competed in the regional finals of the Lions Public Speaking competition and spoke about the benefits of the mentoring program.  Wendy and Jenny’s mum were proud spectators at the finals.

Luke and Greg

‘Greg’ and 16 year old ‘Luke’ are a newly made match, meeting each other in May, although it is almost like Greg and Luke have known each other for years. Luke doesn’t let his ADHD and Asperger’s diagnosis come between their shared love of motors.  Greg and Luke have engaged and developed a strong relationship over the restoration of small engines. Greg is now supporting and coaching Luke towards obtaining his learners permit and has also enrolled to become a L2P mentor in order to take Luke out driving. Since meeting Greg, Luke has been more engaged at school and is setting his mind on a career in the automotive industry. Recently Luke attended a ‘Try-VET’ day participating in a session towards undertaking Certificate 2 in Auto through the VET in schools program. Luke has been so much more focused since being matched with a MATES Mentor and now has the confidence and belief in himself to seek his dream of becoming a mechanic.

(Names of mentors and mentees have been changed to protect the privacy of participants in the mentoring program.)

Win Win Win

Win Win Win!

In the six years that Wimmera Southern Mallee LLEN has been running the Reading Buddies program we have had 200 volunteers from our region support local schools via the program.  The program finds volunteers who listen to children read in a local school for one hour a day, for one or more days a week. The volunteers provide an extra layer of support for our schools and children. But why do people volunteer with the Reading Buddies program?

The program has attracted volunteers from a broad cross-section of our community. We have had:

  • A student teacher, studying an online teaching course, who wanted to get some experience in a school
  • A year 12 student who volunteered during school hours at times when she had no scheduled classes
  • Grandparents of students in the school
  • Grandparents whose grandchildren live interstate, who find that a Reading Buddies fills the gap that they experience by being isolated from their grandchildren
  • Parents of students in the school
  • New arrivals in town who want to make connections with a local community
  • Employees who are able to negotiate flexible work arrangements with their employer to be able to volunteer at a set time during working hours
  • Professionals such as speech pathologists, social workers and occupational therapists who volunteer as part of their employer’s community education program
  • Retirees who love reading and the interaction with young children
  • Secondary students in alternative programs who have been at risk of disengaging from education
  • People who have been in part-time work or unemployed and have wanted to do something useful while they are seeking work
  • Migrants with higher education backgrounds, for whom English is their second language, who have wanted to listen to children read to improve their own language pronunciation.

Volunteering clearly has many benefits for the volunteers. From the list above, we can identify that volunteering:

  • Provides opportunities to gain experience
  • Fills an emotional gap
  • Makes connections with the community
  • Gives satisfaction
  • Provides community education opportunities
  • Is a recreational outlet
  • Gives a sense of purpose
  • Assists with the volunteer’s personal development.

Volunteers usually have a genuine desire to want to make a difference and to contribute to the well-being of our society but an additional key driving factor is what volunteers gain from the experience.

Gaining something from our efforts is a strong motivator to undertake a task. We call it ‘job satisfaction’. We are more inclined to take on a task if we gain satisfaction from it.

Some tasks provide satisfaction from undertaking the task itself, while other tasks are endured for the sake of the end result. One might wash the car, not for the pleasure of the task, but for the satisfaction of having a clean car.

Our Reading Buddies volunteers report that they not only gain satisfaction from the end result, but they actually enjoy the experience of interacting with the children while listening to them read.

This is a win-win-win situation.
The volunteer enjoys the task – win!
The volunteer gains satisfaction from observing the child’s improved reading – win!
The child receives support to develop the vital skill of reading – win!

We all need a mate

To call someone ‘Mate’ is a term of endearment in our Australian language. Our ANZACs and servicemen perhaps understand the term ‘mate’ at a deeper level than most of us will ever know.  We hear stories of ‘mateship’, forged in the horror of war, that endures for life.  A good mate is someone who stands by you through a difficult time – someone who is dependable, someone you can trust and in whom you can confide. 

The MATES mentoring program is appropriately named. For young people in our community today, life is full of pressures and challenges that can be quite overwhelming. The MATES Mentoring Program was developed to support young people through the challenges and to reduce the risk of disengaging from education. 

The program was developed right here in the Wimmera. It began as a pilot program at Dimboola Memoria Secondary College in 2010 and was further developed by the Wimmera Southern Mallee LLEN, and rolled out to other schools across the Wimmera and the rest of the state. 

The program has proven, time and time again, the power of being a ‘mate’ and the difference it can make in the lives of the young people who participate in the program. 

The program is simple. An adult volunteer spends one hour a fortnight for one year, with a student in a local school. That is all it takes to make a huge difference in the lives of young people who need that extra person in their lives. It is almost too simple.  

We know the program works, we know it makes a huge difference in the lives of young people and we have many success stories that support these claims. 

Mentors say: 
“I really feel I am doing something valuable, my time will make an impact”
“When I visit my Mentee, I have five other kids asking to come with me!” 

Mentees say:
“Thank you for making me feel more confident.”
‘My mentor helped me to come out of my shell and now I feel not so scared talking to adults and older people.”
“My mentor has made me feel happier.” 

Schools say:
“The reality is that all students would benefit from a mentor.”
“We are a school of 560 students with at least 20 needing mentors now.”
“The student’s engagement and behavior has improved since being matched with a mentor.” 

Over 400 volunteer mentors have participated in the Mates Mentoring Program since its inception in 2010, which has made a significant impact on 400 young people in our community. 

The reality is that the challenges faced by young people are not going away or becoming easier, so there is an ever-increasing need to find more mentors. 

If you or someone you know could spend one hour a fortnight with a young person in a local school, please contact us at Wimmera Southern Mallee LLEN. 

Contact us by email 
Phone 03 53810122

Or fill out an online application form now!

1000 Books before school

Reading just ten minutes a day can instil a lifelong love of books and learning in young children. Research shows that children who are read to every day from an early age have extended vocabularies, increased reading readiness and improved cognitive skills when they enter school.

Wimmera Regional Library is participating in 1000 Books Before School, the first statewide program in Australia designed to work with families to promote early literacy skills and combat the scourge of adult illiteracy in our communities.

“The ability to read is an essential life skill for everyone, and a child’s development in the early years is so important. Through this reading initiative, public libraries can empower parents to be effective first teachers, and prepare their children for school,” said Kate Torney, CEO,State Library Victoria.

Wimmera Regional Library is implementing this early literacy initiative to engage parents in reading 1000 books with their children from birth until they begin school.  the campaign calls for families to provide positive and nurturing early learning experiences by sharing stories with their children every day.

“the more a child is read to in their pre-school years, the better prepared they are when they start to learn to read and write. We encourage all families to join the program and begin their reading journey with their children and have lots of fun doing it.”

“Public libraries play a vital role in supporting families with their children’s early literacy. We’re delighted that this program encourages parents across Victoria to read to their kids regularly, and help them to develop a love of language and reading”, said Jenny Puffy, Vice President, Public Libraries Victoria Network.

A child’s brain goes through an amazing period of development in the pre-school years. Studies have shown that by the age of three, the brain has reached 80% of its adult size. Early literacy forms the basis for future learning that can last a lifetime.

Through the 1000 Books Before School program, Wimmera Regional Library will support reader and literacy development by providing families with a framework and incentives to encourage a reading habit, and a love of stories in young children.

1000 Books Before School is designed to encourage reading and contribute to building confidence in children from birth to five years and their parents and caregivers. The program will complement the Wimmera Regional Library’s existing early years reading and literacy programs such as Storytime, Rhyetime and Kindergarten visits.

1000 Books Before School is a joint initiative of StateLibrary Victoria and Public Libraries Victoria Network. contact your local library to register or for more information.

Participating library branches are: Dimboola, Edenhope, Horsham, Kaniva, Nhill, St Arnaud and Stawell.

Article from ‘Off the Shelf’, Wimmera Regional Library Corporation, January 2017

Find out more from State Library Victoria

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