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The public speaking club helping young people in Birmingham

BOOSTING CONFIDENCE: Sara Ansa at the Little Speakers club

CHILDREN AS young as five are tackling heavyweight topics such as Brexit and healthy eating thanks to an educational initiative that is empowering young learners in Birmingham to excel in public speaking skills.

Through a series of six-week modules, the Little Speakers Club is also developing the personal confidence of children, some who have previously had a poor level of engagement with their peers.

“We have had a girl who did not say a word for three weeks,” said Syeda Shah, a locally based former science teacher, who launched the initiative under the Femtinos banner.

“We have children in special educational needs groups and children who are shy generally. “Parents want their children to develop skills that will support them later on in life and this is one way of developing leadership and confidence, through public speaking skills in children.”

And those parents are happy with the results.

“My children (son Shiloh, five, and daughter Sarah, 12) have been on the Little Speakers course twice this year,” said mother Leilah Khan.

“They are now doing a third. When we heard about Little Speakers on a local radio station, we rang up to get more information because it sounded great.

“I have seen the benefits of the courses: first of all, they really enjoy them.

“Both are avid readers, which helps, but also they get a chance to speak in front of a large audience, which most children don’t get a chance to do. I always wanted to do public speaking when I was younger.” She added:

“I think it will be great opportunity for them to learn skills that will help them in the future. They will have to do assemblies and presentations in school and in work.

“Shiloh is home-schooled so he will not get the opportunities that others will get to do this kind of work.

“He’s always been quite articulate so this is a chance for him to build on the skills he has at home.”

Shiloh and Sarah were among the stars at the recent Little Speakers event, which drew in close to 100 people, including the sponsors that the newly enterprising speakers had secured. Shiloh spoke about food additives and the importance of maintaining a health diet, while his older sister spoke on the effects of technology in modern life.

The siblings, who are of Jamaican, Indian, Afghan and Hungarian heritage, live in the Alum Rock area of Birmingham with mum Leilah and their father, painter/decorator Junior McMillan. Both youngsters spoke to The Voice on their exploits.

Shiloh said: “It was a lot of fun! You get to learn new things on the course. I was a little bit nervous but it was OK.”

‘LITTLE BIT NERVOUS’: Shiloh spoke about food additives

“It was a lot fun,” added Sarah.

“I didn’t really feel too nervous but enjoyed the experience. Being at Little Speakers is helping to build my confidence, and is helping me in school.”

Leilah added: “It is important that children and young people know they don’t have to live in an affluent area to be able to speak well.

“We may be judged unfairly because of our names and the way we look but thanks to groups like Little Speakers, our children can aspire to great achievements.”

“I don’t think schools do enough to develop children in the area of public speaking,” said Syeda, who has taught science in state, grammar and independent schools across England.

“Before long they are at work and are expected to deliver presentations, which is when the nerves and stress can take over.”

The seeds from which Little Speakers sprouted were planted in 2010, while Syeda was at university and offered letterwriting and other creative services to help her emerge from her own shyness and develop confidence. Once she had qualified as a teacher, the call grew for a more science-based delivery, which she now also offers under the Femtinos banner.

Little Speakers’ first module focuses on how to handle nerves and adopting correct posture; the second took on socio-political themes. They learned how the UK political system works and discussed social issues that mattered to them as individuals. They have even developed their own political parties with speeches, logos and manifestos, learning to work with and help each other in the process.

The third module, which is now in progress, links back to science by analysing issues regarding space and the debate on whether it actually exists. This module will culminate in a theatre production scheduled for January, as Femtinos moves into new accommodation in the Balsall Heath area of Birmingham.

“It is important for young people to be able to articulate clearly their views and opinions, and develop the confidence which is vital for their success,” added Syeda.

“We are so proud to know that the courses are having the impact they are and we look forward to delivering more.”

For more, search Facebook for Femtinos.

Got a story for West Midlands News? Contact Veron Graham on 07954 572 988 (call or text), email or direct message @verongrahamUK on Twitter.

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