President turns storyteller to underprivileged kids

President turns storyteller to underprivileged kids
President Halimah Yacob has her audience from Shine Children and Youth Services spellbound at the Istana as she read Shrinking Sam to them yesterday. PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR

Seated with his friends on a picnic mat in the Istana, Yong Sheng Han, 10, gazed intently at the picture book in front of him, trying to take in all the drawings and colours while listening to the storyteller - President Halimah Yacob.

It was the first visit to the Istana for the Pei Tong Primary School pupil. He said: ''I was excited and happy to meet Madam Halimah. I was also nervous because it was my first time shaking her hand.''

The Primary Four pupil was one of 43 children aged between five and 10 who were treated to a special storytelling session yesterday by Madam Halimah in the first Picnic@ Istana event of the year.

The children are beneficiaries of Shine Children and Youth Services, which serves underprivileged children with learning and socio-emotional difficulties.

Some of the children invited have learning difficulties or are diagnosed with autism or dyslexia.

Madam Halimah also interacted with the children's parents, and staff and volunteers of Shine.

For the storytelling session, the President picked the picture book, Shrinking Sam.

Madam Halimah chose to focus on the importance of reading for this picnic because most of the children did not get the chance to pick up reading habits earlier, being from underprivileged backgrounds.

The children, who may be a few years behind their peers at school and kindergarten in literacy skills, have been attending a weekly guided session called Reading Odyssey to develop their reading skills.

Madam Halimah said developing literacy skills in children before they reach Primary One is crucial because that serves as a foundation for their academic journey.

Speaking to reporters, the President said, in a nod to the Reading Odyssey programme: ''We must always look at how to create opportunities because not all children come from English-speaking backgrounds, nor do they come from backgrounds where their parents are there all the time to be able to give them the kind of support for them to develop their reading skills.''

Sheng Han's mother, Ms Alice Ng, 49, said he can now read full sentences and spell more words through the Reading Odyssey programme.

When he started attending the programme two years ago, ''he couldn't read at all''. This was the fifth in the Picnic@ Istana series, which started in 2017 after Madam Halimah took office.