Kids learn the love of reading at the StoryTent

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Even before Hezhi Naseem had finished unloading her cart of books at the Traveling Stories tent last Thursday at the El Cajon Farmers’ Market, kids were already choosing what books they wanted to read. It’s a typical scene each Thursday afternoon.

Naseem is the field director of Traveling Stories. She is grateful for the overwhelming response by parents who bring their kids to the StoryTent, and by kids telling each other about it.

Even before Hezhi Naseem had finished unloading her cart of books at the Traveling Stories tent last Thursday at the El Cajon Farmers’ Market, kids were already choosing what books they wanted to read. It’s a typical scene each Thursday afternoon.

Naseem is the field director of Traveling Stories. She is grateful for the overwhelming response by parents who bring their kids to the StoryTent, and by kids telling each other about it.

“I’m from East County and when I heard about the StoryTent, I knew I had to get involved somehow,” Naseem said.

After her sister had become a volunteer for Traveling Stories, Naseem decided to sign up to volunteer as well.  It just so happened that they were looking for a field director at the time.

“I get to work where I wanted to volunteer. How many people get to say that?” Naseem said.

Traveling Stories founder Emily Moberly said that more kids are joining the StoryTent program every Thursday.

“For some of these children, they say it’s the first time they’ve felt at home since they fled their home country,” Moberly said.

But with the huge response in the community to StoryTents, Moberly and Naseem also see a tremendous need for more volunteers.

“Any amount of time volunteered is a tremendous help and truly beneficial for the kids. With more volunteers, the kids are able to get that one-on-one reading time that is so crucial, especially when they are just learning to read or trying to grasp a second language. 

“Smaller group sizes and one-on-one reading is when I have noticed more of the kids really engaging in the storytelling by asking questions and reading along,” said Naseem, who immigrated with her parents to El Cajon from Kurdistan. She knows how challenging it is to learn a second language.

Many of the StoryTent readers in El Cajon speak English as a second language.

“I’ve read to so many kids who had recently moved to the States and did not speak much English, after a few visits to the StoryTents those same kids started reading to me instead of the other way around,” Naseem said.

The children come to StoryTent out of sheer curiosity. Parents often stay and linger, watching their kids take to reading like never before. Muntaha Putrus watched her three girls of ages 5, 8, and 11 sit together and read a book.

“We’ve been here many times and come whenever we get a chance. I am happy to be here,” Putrus said, adding that her 8-year-old Manuela has truly benefited from the StoryTent.

“Manuela does read at home more often. They’re small books, but a few words are better than none,” she said.

Selena Hanou, 10, had read five different books that afternoon, including “Clifford’s First School Day.” Naseem asked her questions about the book, and after Hanou was done, Naseem gave her several book bucks.

“You get prizes for reading books,” Hanou explained.

While the prizes such as toys, dolls, games and books are a big draw for kids, the joy of reading with family members and friends is important for them.

Hanou’s older sister, Sandra, 12, is a Junior Volunteer. “I just like to read and I want to teach other kids how to read, too,” she said. 

Volunteer Ayesha Kasouka, 18, views her time spent helping kids to read is a great way to give back to the community.

“When I learned to read, it was a great way of exploring my imagination. Now I can share my creative side and show how kids can develop their own,” Kasouka said. 

Naseem agreed. “Reading teaches children to see things from many different perspectives, it expands their vocabulary and allows them to grasp new languages, which is what we see a lot of at our weekly StoryTents.”

“It’s a beautiful place here and we need the community’s support to keep it going,” Moberly said. 

For those interested in volunteering, go to travelingstories.org/volunteer or contact Volunteer Coordinator Julie Behrens at Julie@travelingstories.org.

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