Literary specialist BEVERLY SACE first launched her company Books and Brains, to help children with reading and phonics, in August 2020. As we know, however, it was an unpredictable time. So she instead turned her attention to helping set up educational companies – “for other people who were braver than me!” Beverly says that, in hindsight, she should have stayed the course.
Happily, she has now just relaunched Books and Brains following a rebranding and redefinition of what she’d like the organisation to achieve. Her aim? To support children who are behind in their acquisition of phonics skills – that is, those who are reading below their grade level.
Beverly is also on a mission to spread the idea that not all phonics are the same and effective, and she’d like to equip parents, teachers and schools with the knowledge of what makes good phonics programmes. “This will save children a lot of heartache!”
Why is reading so important for young learners?
Reading is a very politicised issue. We know that reading levels reflect crime and employment rates – it can be this serious! When we talk about reading, we are also talking about equity, making sure that all knowledge and information can be accessed by everyone. When a child is unable to read, this will affect firstly her confidence, secondly her academics and thirdly her success in life. The first step to success really is learning how to read so children can read to learn and thrive.
What exactly is “phonics”?
Phonics is learning to read and write through learning sound and letter/spelling correspondence. The English language has 44 sounds and these sounds can be represented by as many as 250 spellings! Because of the opaqueness of English orthography (or spelling system), it can take children, even native English speaking children, up to two years to start to master. The skills of letter and sound recognition, blending (putting sounds together), segmenting (spelling), tricky words (recognising and spelling irregularly spelled words) and reading and writing sentences are what’s taught and learned.
What are some reasons children might struggle with reading?
There are many reasons, at many levels. As a consultant to local and international schools, the main one I see is that some schools or learning centres are using programmes that only the smartest children can pick up. Why not teach in a way so everyone can learn? Another reason is that teachers need training in teaching the sounds and skills – in which I can also help!
At home, however, a damaging belief that we all have (and I once had) is that letter names help children read. Practically speaking, I have found that knowing their ABCs actually slows children down as they have to recall both letter names and sounds instead of just sounding out words!
Lastly, there are learning difficulties that may be slowing down reading development. But, with the right support, I believe all children can read.
How do you pinpoint gaps in reading?
At the age of four is when most schools start the teaching of phonics. As mentioned before, it can be a long process. So, when children are just starting to read at Year One, or at five years old, I would say that the child is “late” for the education system as Year One work onwards will draw on the phonics skills learnt at Reception.
Pinpointing gaps in reading means that I will have to look at each child’s phonics skills and identify a possible cause for not being able to “blend”, for example. I have a quick and fun assessment that can identify which phonics skills need strengthening.
What are some of the ways Books and Brains helps strengthen reading skills in kids?
First and foremost, we ensure that each child’s strengths and weaknesses are identified through a fun but telling assessment. Following this, we draw up a learning plan so that we can teach as quickly as we can but as slowly as we must. The goal is to bring up each child to the reading level of their age so they can focus on learning rather than reading.
Weekly lessons are standard, but a more intensive plan – especially during this summer before the school year starts again – can be arranged. I always like to say that we work with families, rather than just with a child. Weekly lessons will get the child learning steadily. But if we want more spectacular results, we will draw on the “village” around the child. Reading practice can and should be done at home. With our extensive range of appropriate readers, every child will be able to find books that suit their interests. These books can be taken home and read to a listening non-judgmental family member, even to the family pet!
In addition, we have also partnered with Phonics Hero, an awesome edtech solution used by premium international schools, to help support children on days they’re not getting instruction from me.
How can families and children get started with the services you offer?
The fastest way is to get in touch on WhatsApp. We can arrange an assessment meeting either online or in person at our Quarry Bay reading clinic, depending on the COVID situation. We’ve also started collaborating with community stalwarts like ReBooked on holding phonics and reading-related talks. I hope to meet families who might need my support and advice.
What do you like to do in Hong Kong when you’re not working?
My family and I like camping out on the beach all day. With an 18-month old and a daughter who is starting university, it’s one of the activities we all agree on! The little one playing with sand, my husband hovering, and me and my eldest reading!
And what do you like to read in your downtime?
My guilty pleasure is reading interior design magazines, including Expat Living! It’s a break from all the psychology- and reading-related books I read all the time!
Find out more
Books and Brains is at Suite 1204, Banyan Workspaces, Eastern Harbour Centre, 28 Hoi Chak Road, Quarry Bay. For more information, contact email@example.com, WhatsApp 9817 5167 or visit booksandbrains.org.
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