Thank You, Dr. Charles French

I posted on my blog yesterday, “A Gift of Charlotte’s Web.”  As I scrolled down to print a hard copy (yes, I have a hard copy of every blog post- it’s wonderful), I looked at the three suggested readings of similar posts.  One was titled, “Death and Dying and Chapter Reading.”  What? I could not remember the post, as it was quite old.  Well, I read it again, and it was terrific.

Then, I looked at the bottom of the post.  There was only one ‘like’.  One!  That ‘like’ was Charles French.  He has been a follower and supporter of my blog since way-back-when.

I learned everything I needed and wanted to know by following his blog.  I learned how to thank people, how to follow people, and how to reblog.  I learned, and Charles French kept reading and liking my blog posts.  His blog has become a favorite and a gold standard for those who are passionate about books, literature, and education.  If you like Shakespeare, the classics, quotes, education, great books, and even dining with authors, please visit his blog at charlesfrenchonwordsreadingandwriting.wordpress.com

Charles French, thank you!  My only wish is that I could be a student in your class one day.  Here is the post that you liked:

***********************************************************************

Death and Dying, and Chapter Reading

I finished reading our first chapter book of the school year, Charlotte’s Web.  Children were engrossed in this book because it is a story about the heart, and my most important job is educating the heart.  As such, they began to understand the depth of true feelings.  Charlotte the spider died.  That opened the door for questions, and some of those questions were in the form of silence.  That’s when I put down the book and talked with the children, and listened.

Death isn’t an easy topic with children.  Addressing death and dying with young children, and with their families, is typically not part of a teacher’s curriculum, or even part of the books and stories they read.  When Charlotte died this week, here is what I wrote home to the children’s families:

Yesterday we finished our first chapter book of the year, Charlotte’s Web. It is a wonderful story, and your children loved it. Chapter reading is one of the favorite times of the day because children are captivated by words alone. Those words make the pictures in their heads, and those words make their minds think and their hearts feel. That is the power of reading aloud.

“Can’t you just read more?” is what children ask when we stop reading. That means they are listening and comprehending. Chapter reading is a bridge from understanding a book to feeling a book. That’s a big step for children. In Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur the pig makes his best friend with Charlotte the spider, yet he suffers through sadness and loneliness. Charlotte the spider dies at the end, as all spiders do. These facts are part of the story, yet are vastly overshadowed by the storyline itself. That is why a good book imparts a tremendous opportunity for learning.

Death and dying happens, and when it can be introduced to children in this way, it can better give them tools of understanding. It can also be a soft step to real events in a child’s life. When a grandparent dies, or even when a classroom pet dies, perhaps Charlotte’s Web gave a child understanding and compassion. Did we talk about Charlotte when we read the book? Of course we did; not only her death, but her children (all five hundred and fourteen), and the words she wrote in her web. And, we will continue to talk. Often children bring up questions months later, and we listen and answer.

Sarah and I have a wonderful dialogue when we finish a book. I become very sad and a little teary. Sarah asks, “What’s the matter, Jennie?” I reply, “The book is over. I don’t like that! It was so good. I’m really very sad.” Sarah perks up and says, “But we get to read another new chapter book.” I reply, “Really? When?” Sarah says in a big voice, “Tomorrow!”

That’s our circle of chapter reading, much like the circle of life.

When I first started teaching, our school’s director always stressed the importance of teaching families.  She understood that in order to educate the child you also need to guide parents and families.  She was emphatic about sending newsletters home, and adding one paragraph that would teach something to families.  She was right.  She also felt that educating children and families about death and dying was important.  Gulp!  For many teachers that was an uncomfortable topic to address.

A few years later our beloved classroom guinea pig, Elliott, died unexpectedly.  I was devastated.  First I knew I had to tell the children, then I knew I had to tell their families.  That was my diving board, and I put my fingers to the keyboard and wrote.  I talked about letting children ask questions and giving them an opportunity to say goodbye.  I talked about being honest.  I talked about how perhaps experiencing the death of a pet can help make the death of a loved one down the road a little easier.  The words flowed.

Over the years there have been many classroom pets who have died, and many stories and books about death.  I listen.  I ask questions.  Children always have a voice.  Chapter reading really is much like the circle of life.  I am educating the heart.

Jennie

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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44 Responses to Thank You, Dr. Charles French

  1. Jennie, I am so sorry, I missed this heartfelt post. It is beautifully written and it is a theme I have written about, it was my very first post on WordPress almost 4 years ago, but nothing like the beautifully written post her, that you have written. You are right about Dr. French, he has helped me the same way. I am reblogging this, it is the best one I have ever read. I know, because I have been a cancer RN for many years and at Emery for cancer clinical research and I volunteered at St. Jude Research hospitable for two years. This is something that is close to my heart. Thank you, Karen

  2. Reblogged this on Pen and Paper and commented:
    This post, by Jennie, at https://jenniefitzkee.com, a teacher for 30 years, and what she does is Educating the Heart so children can learn with heart.

  3. Of course I love everything about this post and glad you re-posted an older one so I could enjoy it. And you are right, Dr. French is the best. I have learned so much from him and he continues to encourage me when I get discouraged and want to throw in the towel. I was probably 12 years old before I had any concept of death and still no one talked about it anywhere. What a blessing you are to those children and their parents to give them the tools to broach an often difficult subject.

    • Jennie says:

      Marlene, you are the best. You speak the kindest words and have the biggest heart. More importantly, you are genuine about everything. I feel so lucky that you read and follow my blog. Thank you! Yes, Dr. French is a pillar of giving and education and excellence. To think that he was the one-and-only like on my post speaks to his character. You are right that most teachers don’t talk about death and dying. I have written a number of posts on this, because children need to talk about it. Thank you!

      • My genuine pleasure. I would read Dr. French’s book but I can’t read horror. I know he has some wonderful lessons in the book. There are a lot of fortunate children in the world that have you both as educators.

  4. Norah says:

    Thanks for sharing this earlier post, Jennie. You wrote it long before I met you, so I’m pleased to have the opportunity of reading it. It is just as pertinent now. I agree that it is important to educate families as well as children. The children’s education begins, and probably ends, with their family. It is a cycle of life too. Charlotte’s Web is a wonderful story and a great chapter book to share first, last, or anywhere in the middle.

  5. beetleypete says:

    Having a blogging inspiration like Charles is the best way to learn about how the process works, and the community it can foster.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  6. frenchc1955 says:

    Thank you so much. I am humbled, and at a rare loss for words.

  7. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    I am humbled by Jennie’s post.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you Charles. You were the one-and-only on one of my greatest posts. My blog was new and you had found me. For that, I will always be thankful!

  8. Beautiful post. Amazing how many bright lights you meet in the blogging world.

  9. ren says:

    Wonderful post and bless you for not shying away from talking with all your children about the natural act of death and dying.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Ren. Yes, I talk about life, death, the heart, and a hundred other wonderful things. Children need to feel okay asking questions.

  10. Darlene says:

    So pleased you reblogged this for your newer followers. What a wonderful letter to send home to parents.I must admit, I never received a letter like this when my children attended school. I do remember reading Charlotte’s Web to my daughter and having a good discussion after.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Darlene. The best learning often takes place at unexpected times, like in the middle of reading a story. I think telling families about all that happened is important. I am reminded of another older post I must repost soon.

  11. A lovely post, Jennie. Charlotte’s Web was the first book to ever make me cry. Then I read, The Day No Pigs Would Die in middle school and had my second experience of being profoundly moved by a book. Books are wonderful ways for kids to learn about dying and death, to let kids ask questions and explore their feelings. We live in a society that struggles with these topics though they are part of every life. The kids in your classroom are lucky to have such an open place to learn. 🙂

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Diana. You are so right. I just watched an ancient video of Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) in front of the Senate talking about this exact thing with allowing children to express their feelings. He was trying to get federal funding for PBS and his “new” TV show, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Charlotte’s Web does that. Teachers just need to talk about, and start the conversation with children.

  12. Wonderful post and wonderful tribute to the Professor (incidentally, the first “like” on my blog as well, and one of my first followers). How the man does so much for so many while writing and promoting a book is beyond me… But I suspect he has a super hero’s cape in his desk drawer.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you KC! And to think that we share the same blog beginnings with Charles French. He is quite a man, and I do suspect he has a super hero cape stashed in his desk!

  13. Di says:

    Hello Jennie!
    Again I was totally captivated by your writing and sharing of what occurs in your classroom.
    It’s wonderful to have a mentor and someone to push us gently to greater things as you found in Dr Charles French.
    And… you may just have me wishing to read Charlotte’s web again…
    Beautiful post, thank you Jennie 💕

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you. It is indeed a great thing to have someone who leads the way. You won’t be disappointed if you reread Charlotte’s Web. Such a wonderful book.

  14. Just lovely. I have a three-year-old boy and I can’t wait to read books like these with him. Well said and a really sweet shoutout to a peer.

  15. Reblogged this on Writers and their stories and commented:
    This is my first reblog but I join many others in thanking Dr Charles French and Jennie for all their help and support over the years

  16. Yu/stan/kema says:

    Bravo! Excellent article.

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