Speech by President Halimah Yacob at the 15th Anniversary of kidsREAD on 9 November 2019, at The Plaza, National Library Building

Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information

Mrs Elaine Ng, Chief Executive Officer, National Library Board

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. KidsREAD was started in April 2004 to promote the love of reading and cultivate good reading habits among children from less privileged families. NLB had observed that many of these families do not visit the library often. Together with partners and volunteers, NLB designed kidsREAD to encourage children’s engagement with language, print, and books, and help them develop stronger reading skills.

2. Over the past 15 years, kidsREAD has brought the joy of reading to more than 50,000 children. Today, kidsREAD has become a nationwide volunteer-run programme, with more than 900 volunteers deployed in 176 kidsREAD clubs across Singapore. NLB’s volunteers and partners have been key to the success of this initiative.

3. Through the kidsREAD programme, children are introduced to books through fun activities such as storytelling and dramatisation. Exploring the world of books helps to nurture a child’s curiosity and creativity. As they discuss books they read during the kidsREAD club sessions, they grow to be more confident in expressing themselves. One such example is Chin Shao Ming, who was part of the first batch of kidsREAD participants at CDAC@Redhill. With the support of veteran volunteers Jimmy and Grace, Shao Ming practised reading aloud, and standing up to answer questions. This helped him gain confidence when presenting to an audience. Shao Ming is currently pursuing his undergraduate studies.

4. Now that kidsREAD is into its 15th year, an interesting phenomenon has also emerged. Some of the past participants of kidsREAD have since grown up to be youth volunteers themselves. It is heartwarming to see how these past participants of kidsREAD spread their love for reading with others. For example, 15-year-old Sofi Sofiyah Rahmat discovered her love for stories when she joined kidsREAD in 2009. It inspired her so much that she soon started her own library at home, and now shares it with her younger sister, who is participating in kidsREAD. The books that she read in kidsREAD have also inspired her to draw. Today, Sofi Sofiyah is passionate about helping kidsREAD children discover that same joy.

5. To encourage more alumni to do the same, I am happy to share that NLB will be rolling out two new programmes starting from August next year: KidsREAD Alumni, for alumni aged 15 and above; and kidsREAD Young Alumni, for those aged between 9 and 14. KidsREAD Alumni members will share their experiences with kidsREAD participants to encourage them in their reading journeys. They will conduct library tours, contribute to reading activities and more. Their younger friends will help to conduct holiday programmes such as dramatisation and make book recommendations. In the process, they will also get to practise useful skills such as public speaking and storytelling.

6. Over the years, kidsREAD has been updating its curriculum to ensure that the programme remain relevant. This year, the focus of its curriculum review is on Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM). Not only will kidsREAD make reading more enjoyable, but it will also make learning these subjects more interesting to the students. KidsREAD will also prepare our children for the future by introducing computational thinking activities. Through these activities, our children will take their first steps in being digitally-ready for the new economy. Next year, 3,500 participants will receive Junior Computational Thinking Kits. Developed by Tiny Thinkers and supported by the Infocomm Media Development Authority, the Kits will enable participants to plan a story character’s journey through the use of computational thinking skills. The Kit and the STEAM activities are also available for you to try out today.

7. Apart from seeking knowledge, reading can also be a useful bonding activity for families. This is one side benefit that initiatives such as kidsREAD@Home booklets and postcards can bring about. Through these materials, parents are encouraged to be involved in their children’s reading journey at home and bond with them over reading. In the same way, Arunraj Chidambaram and his family bonded while volunteering at Zhenghua Community Club. His mother, Selvarani, started the club back in 2008, and gradually roped in Arun and his siblings with her infectious love of giving back to the community. The kidsREAD participants and volunteers have become part of their extended family.

8. In commemoration of the 15th anniversary of kidsREAD, NLB has collaborated with Scholastic to publish a special book titled, The Message in the Stars. Written by local author, Shekinah Linn, the story is about the journey of three friends, Squirrel, Mousedeer, and Monkey, to uncover a mysterious object falling from the sky. I look forward to reading this book to a group of children later at a storytelling session.

9. Beyond kidsREAD, I hope we can do more as a community to promote the love for reading in our children. The early years are crucial for the development of young children, and exposure to language is an important foundation for children in their subsequent learning. This is why earlier this year, I have asked the President’s Challenge to partner NLB, Youth Corps Singapore, and the Early Childhood Development Agency to pilot a new reading programme that is designed for children aged one to four. The programme aims to build good reading habits from an early age, through simple strategies for language development and high quality adult-child interactions. The agencies are hard at work developing the programme and I am glad that we are on track to start this pilot in the first half of 2020.

10. The importance of reading cannot be over-emphasised in young children. Over the past 15 years, kidsREAD has helped many children discover the joy of reading. As we celebrate the 15th anniversary of kidsREAD today, let us continue to spread the joy of reading to more children. Thank you.