Above: Nicholas and his volunteer “Pyjama Angel” Michelle who mentors, supports and encourages him in his learning.
Nicholas is a foster kid who has been in care all his life, and like many children in his position he struggled with reading, speech and dyslexia.
But thanks to the care and help of a “Pyjama Angel” reading books with him every week, within a few years Nicholas now has a passion for reading and learning, and much-improved speech.
Nicholas’ story is one of the hundreds of little miracles being worked every week by The Pyjama Foundation – an organisation dedicated to helping foster children in their education by developing their reading skills.
In an interview with Katrina Roe, Pyjama Foundation founder and director Bronwyn Sheehan explained what inspired her to start the organisation.
“14 years ago I met a foster carer and was blown away by her commitment to foster children,” she said. “Over 35 years she’d had about 100 kids through her home. She was so caring and nurturing and raising foster children so beautifully. I wanted to do something to contribute and support the carers.”
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With 9 out of 10 kids in foster care having below-average reading skills by the age of 7, Bronwyn decided she would found an organisation to work on that.
“Kids in care really struggle with their education because they’ve come from very unstable backgrounds where education hasn’t been a focus,” said Bronwyn. “When children experience trauma it’s hard for their brains to learn. So the children in foster care struggle with literacy and reading.
“Traditionally we read books aloud to our own children at night [in pyjamas], so I thought I’d call it the Pyjama Foundation.”
“I read books aloud to my kids since they were newborn babies. When they went to school they learnt to read overnight, just like magic. So I thought, if I could start off by reading to the foster children then we could catch then up on their learning so they could be equal to their peers.
“Traditionally we read books aloud to our own children at night [in pyjamas], so I thought I’d call it the Pyjama Foundation,” she said. “When I started in 2004 there were 21,000 children in foster care and now in 2018 there are over 50,000.”
One Hour a Week is Changing Young Lives
The foundation’s key program is called “Love of Learning”. Volunteers (“Pyjama Angels”) are matched with a foster child and spend an hour a week in their home reading books aloud and playing educational games (UNO, Scrabble, Monopoly, Memory, Fish) – and other fun activities, using books and resources from a dedicated resource library in their region. They help to instil confidence and a love for learning in the child.
Literally thousands of children have been helped by the program. The results are clear: children going through the program are succeeding at school, staying in school longer, and becoming excited about learning, says Bronwyn.
“A supportive person who’s passionate about reading can make such a difference to these childrens’ lives,” she said.
To become a volunteer or donate to support the work of The Pyjama Foundation head to their website, thepyjamafoundation.com.