First-graders not learning to read or second-graders forgetting to read again: canceled classes and distance learning during the corona pandemic have taken their toll.

But even in the pre-pandemic era, the situation was grim, says Margret Schaaf, president of the Federal Association for Reading Aids. Only 30% of families in Germany read with preschoolers. This has serious consequences.

The problem is big

“One in five fourth graders can’t read the meaning,” says the 64-year-old. It goes on: Twenty percent of fifteen-year-olds can only read at primary school level. “If reading causes so many problems, then you don’t like reading either.”

Margret Schaaf, as 1st president of MENTOR – Die Leselernhelfer Bundesverband, is committed to bringing children closer to the pleasure of reading: with thousands of mentors who go to schools “from Kiel to Rosenheim” on a voluntary basis and one hour per week each read with a primary school child.

Little vocabulary, little imagination

It’s about getting kids interested in stories from an early age. Looking at and talking about picture books with preschoolers is already shaping their vocabulary, says the romance studies student and sociologist. “Kids who don’t have that in preschool come to school with very little vocabulary and very little imagination, and then they lack that as a foundation.”

Schaaf is convinced that reading is “the basic condition of all learning”. In order to interest young people in reading, the mentors meet the children’s interests, choose reading materials together, and would have no problem reading “Kicker”.

In Hürth, where she lives, Schaaf has been involved for many years in learning to read and has been president of the federal association since 2013. At that time the association had 28 member clubs, today there are has 105.

The grandmother gave the impetus

Growing up in a village near Düren, she was encouraged by her parents – her mother who was a seller and her father who was a turner – but “it was her grandmother who gave the impetus”. For the grandmother, who was the twelfth child in a farming family in the 1920s and was vocationally trained, it was clear early on “that I would go to high school”.

On the one hand, Schaaf attributes the success of the reading mentors to the results of the program: nine out of ten elementary school students who participated in it significantly improved their reading comprehension, she reports. The children also greatly appreciated the individual care offered by the program.

“But I also measure success by the number of people who participate,” says the Rhenish. With 12,000 volunteer readers’ helpers throughout the territory, “passing on the pleasure of reading to the youngest” is obviously a major concern.