A Pen-Pal is an exciting way to learn about other people and countries, because it is hands-on. No computers, no iPads, just real things that children can touch and see; letters, pictures, and even a book. There is no instant gratification; instead there is the anticipation of what will come. And come, it did. This is a Montessori preschool in Prague, Czech Republic. The handwritten words on the cover are beautiful, but the story is even better.
Last winter the older brother of one of my students was visiting here. He is a Montessori preschool teacher in Prague, and asked if he could read a book and do an activity with the children. I was thrilled. Of course it was the day before school vacation for the holidays, and he planned on visiting the class later in the afternoon. Do I need to tell you what young children are like at the end of the day, right before a holiday?
Mike came into the classroom and children were drawn to him. I think there is a magic string that connects children to certain adults; there must be. The adult has to hold powers of joy and heart, and the magic string transmits it to children. How else can people like Mike (and Milly) connect with young children?
I sat back and watched Mike as he read Little Mole and the Snowman to fifteen transfixed children. It was wordy, yet they loved it. He then taught the children how to count in Czech, and proceeded to do ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes’ in Czech.
It was now long past 4:30 PM, nearly an hour had gone by, and children wanted more. I had witnessed a remarkable teacher, one who must have had a magic string. What did I do? I asked if our classrooms could become Pen-Pals. And, we did.
We wrote a big letter on chart paper asking our new Pen-Pal many questions. They responded with a book depicting what they do:
As we read these first few pages we had so much to talk about! Isn’t that what Pen-Pals do? “They use sign language for number three. They have a tree in the classroom. They’re good writers.” The language and thinking and connecting went on and on. As we read every page of the book, we discovered musical instruments, we learned that a circle is an ellipse, and children can paint up to their elbows!
A Pen-Pal seems to align with language, with real books, and with the idea that learning is exploring. It takes time for children to absorb what they learn. While my class is doing that absorbing, we get the thrill of writing our own book for our Czech Pen-Pals. That will be yet another learning experience.