Saturday, June 8, 2013

Reading Mum - São Paulo

My favorite day of the week during the school year is Thursday. From 8-10 am every Thursday morning, I am a reading mum at my kids' private school. The name "reading mum" is a little misleading--I am really a "listening mum" (and I would prefer "mom" but it's British English at their school). There are 23 second-graders who read me their 16-22 page books and I help them with pronunciation and difficult words. We sit on a bench in a corridor near their classroom and the other school kids pass by going to their activities--my own sons (1st graders) also stop by for a hug when they see me.

Why do I love it so? Second graders are funny. Really funny. I started posting on my facebook page a number of the "zen moments" I had with them. My favorite child (sorry, but I do have one, I can't help it) is at a moment in his boyhood that he does not like girls. So I like to tease him that his book this week (every week) is about princesses and he feigns death. Then he'll take the book and read it with every character as a boy (the princess becomes a soccer star) doing "boy" things (on the soccer pitch instead of at the castle). Yes, there are books with gender bias but not many. If there is gender bias, this particular boy will change it. The other way.

I also have had the opportunity to brush up on my British English. I can "humour" them rather than humor them now. Lorries deliver what trucks should bring. But when one of the girls read a story about Cinderella and one of the stepsisters was "stroppy", I crossed my fingers that my reader would not ask me what stroppy meant. Of course she asked. I said "rude." I was corrected by my British friends later, and of course I have already forgotten what they said.

Around 80% of the kids are Brazilian. You might think that the English native speakers would be the best readers but that is not necessarily true. The soccer-obsessed kid above is the best reader of all (no accent, excellent pronunciation and comprehension) and his parents are both Brazilian. In general I can tell who has parents who read with the kids at night, and who does not get the chance to practice after school.

I wish there were more ways to be involved directly with the kids at our school. And I believe that this school is more inviting to parents being involved than most others. The kids' first school here in Brazil (private but Brazilian language only) was not at all welcoming to "outside" help. I imagine that the public schools here probably don't ask or receive much help from the parents--but I'm out of my league. I just don't know. 

Next week is my last Reading Mum of the year. Yesterday the school sent me a present of flowers and tea and biscuits to thank me. I should thank them. I will miss those 7 year old kids who sit as close as they can to me, snag a book and read about laughing hyenas, magic keys and fairy tales. Since my kids move to second grade in the fall, I will not be able to read with that age group again. Maybe I'll get me some first grade readers--I can hope!


  1. Here we have an interesting dynamic about helpers. First of all, our school could barely function without them. There are mystery readers up to 2nd grade (my favorite), math facts quizzers, general room moms, party or event organizers, and much much more. I'm sure it depends on the school, city, state etc.

    What's most interesting is the demographic. Probably 90% of the helpers are from the three most affluent subdivisions in our school. In fact probably 70% are from one specific neighborhood: the most affluent by far. (Incidentally I would count myself as living in the #3 neighborhood.)

    Of those helpers I would say probably 70% are stay at home moms (I'm not sure of the politically correct term now. I can't use "work at home" because we have a policy at work about working at home regularly.)

    I feel a slight stigma about helping there in that I don't do so much. My work hours are not conducive. And since the divorce I have far less time than I once did. I was always mystery reader for my kids K-2 classes. I usually organized one party or event per year, but they've changed things so no longer. I'm likely to bring store bought baked goods when requested. I've never done any of the other jobs.

    I know moms who are at the school helping as much as 2-3 hours per day. And when they are together in a social setting (and of course with other equally or closely affluent moms, most of whom are also helpers) I have heard them complain about those who do not help. They quickly say they know I can't. But I don't think they really believed it till the divorce. I have also heard complaints generally about the kids from the less affluent neighborhoods, some verging on racist.

    Ultimately what strikes me is just how very cliquish the parents are. So judgy. How can the kids not be?

    It's a very integrated school and yet white kids generally do not mix much with Latino or black kids and vice versa (those are the predominant demographics, which incidentally follows the same demographics of those neighborhoods I mentioned.)

    And I live in the most affluent county in the state. Not the most affluent school though. I shudder to think how much worse it is in those schools!

    1. I think you know that I am not criticizing moms that don't have time or wherewithal to help out AT the school. I am fortunate to have the time to do so. I won't always, I know. I actually was saying the opposite in the case of my kids' school--they don't ask parents for enough involvement. I think other folks would make time if the school let them do so.

      My point about parents was about seeing which kids have parents who read with them at night. I do think that we all have responsibility for this as parents. Or if there is no time at night, read in the morning before school. Whatever works. It's knowing that your parent is interested and involved in your school work.

      I have not found parents too cliquish here...though the Brazilians tend to stick together, and the South Africans are pretty closed and the rest of the expatriates stick together. We mix at parties but in general we each stay with our own. Interesting point that one, Kathy, I hadn't thought about it before now.

      Thank you for your very thoughtful response.


  2. Did it not publish my really lengthy comment? Pooh

  3. I definitely did not think you were saying anything of the sort! It just brought up those thoughts for me.

    I totally agree about how important reading is. I had a hard time making the time to read with my kids when they were younger, but I did it despite the difficulty. I'm glad they are both avid readers.

    One thing, maybe food for thought. My kids were very different in when they picked it up for themselves. Ryan, with whom I would say I spent significantly more time reading, really didn't do it well for himself until around late 2nd grade / early 3rd grade. Jessie, on the other hand, starting reading to me when she was just 3. I almost couldn't even believe it and thought she had just memorized the books, but then when she was asked to read a new book she had never seen she remarkably could read quite fluently.

    So perhaps some of those kids are just slower than others. Ryan went straight to Harry Potter at the end of 3rd grade and would read one per week after that. Hopefully they will likewise catch up.

    I have really enjoyed hearing about your reading mum moments. So adorable. And it really does sound like you've gotten as much as you've given, but it's been a fantastic service to those kids.

    I have always felt appreciative of those moms that are able to spend more time than me helping at school, especially those who I've seen never had that judgy attitude and who treat all the kids there equally. It really does take a village.