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Phonics for free on the supermarket shelves

Nadene Ghouri visits the store where S stands for shopping - and spelling

As delicious as Pot Noodles may be, they aren't normally regarded as a learning tool. But for four-year-old Jimena Meza Mitcher and her mother, Claire, a chicken flavour pot is a valuable phonics tool.

"P-o-t", emphasises Claire, "p-o-t," repeats Jimena.

"Nooodles", says Claire, "now in what other words do we hear that ooo sound?" "Hoops," giggles Jimena, "spaghetti hoops."

Jimena and Claire are converts to a new literacy promotion scheme, run by the London borough of Newham and supermarket giant Sainsbury's, designed to encourage parents to help infant children learn to read.

During the four-month project, shoppers at the East Ham branch can hear free book readings, and pick up six free "recipe" cards highlighting simple ways to improve a child's reading such as using a library, listening to them read aloud, and turning the weekly shop into a valuable literacy experience. The till rolls are printed with the slogan "books at home mean better learning".

All of which explains why Jimena and Claire are playing repetition games among the frozen veg. Claire is attempting to buy her groceries, while pushing six-week-old Magdalena's pram and feeding a tired and hungry Jimena a cheese sandwich.

Normally she would also have an eight-year-old Ines to contend with. However, Claire is a "shop together, read together" advocate. "Three kids out shopping is quite a hassle," she says, "they usually hate coming and get bored, trailing behind. But the first time we tried this they enjoyed it so much I actually found it quite helpful. I sent them off to find letters on the things I knew wanted to pick up anyway."

It does seem Jimena has got the hang of things - maybe a little too well. "I'll find a C," she shouts, whizzing past the tinned food section and straight to the chocolate stand.

"I've found a C again" - this time she dashes up the aisle brandishing a Dennis the Menace cake. "Please can we buy this mum?" Claire says no, so Jimena trys a change of tack. She decides her second favourite letter is S and is delighted to find S just so happens to be found in sweets.

By the time we catch her up at the pick and mix, Jimena has hit upon the great idea of collecting a sweet every time she pronounces it correctly. "I'm clever," she beams. Clearly.

A little tired from all her exertion Jimena finds the children's book stand and decides to lie down in the aisle and have a proper read.

Community services aside, how would store manager Richard Newman cope if every toddler in East Ham decided to ransack his store in the name of education? "No really, It would be, erm, wonderful," he laughs a little nervously. "Books are as important as bread to young children."

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