As a teacher, I want to grow readers. I want to help children develop a sense of understanding. I want children to become curious, and eager to discover. I learned early on that in order to do this, it all begins with language and hearing words. Fact: a child’s success in school in all areas, not just reading, is directly attributed to the number of words s/he hears. As a parent of young children, that fact alone made me want to run to the public library. And I did. As a teacher, I became an advocate for reading to children. I just knew that pouring all those words into their brains was filling the learning reservoir. It happens in this order – listening, speaking, reading, then writing.
Reading aloud became a passion and a constant in my classroom. The guru of reading aloud, Jim Trelease, visited my classroom to hear me read. He was curious that I read chapter books to preschoolers, and that they were glued to the story. He was also writing the latest edition of his million-copy bestselling book, The Read-Aloud Handbook. I am fortunate to be included in the book.
At chapter reading, children know that they make the pictures in their heads. This week I said,
“The words go into your ears, and then into your brain and into your heart. When that happens, you can see the picture in your head. Can’t you just see Wilbur standing under Charlotte’s web? Can’t you just see the morning dew making SOME PIG stand out?”
Oh, we had a wonderful, rich conversation! Language and literacy. Yes, it starts with language. But, I felt pulled to do more, to help children cross over, to give them the tools to be a bigger part of it all. I wanted children to use their own thinking – their own language. Here is what happened:
I read our first “fact” picture book of the year, Humphrey The Lost Whale, by Wendy Tokuda and Richard Hall.
It is the story of a whale who goes into the San Francisco bay and gets lost. He turns the wrong way and travels up the Sacramento River. It took an entire day to look at and talk about the inside cover alone. Geography at its best!
The small map is the United States. Note the small red area. That depicts the location of the large map. We could see the ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay, and Humphrey’s path up the river – which got smaller and smaller. Questions and curiosity and conversations were abundant. Plus, it was so cool that it was a true story.
The next day I read the book to the children. We often stopped to talk about what was happening. When we hit this page, I showed the illustration and just said, “Oh, no.”
Silence. Big eyes. Worried eyes. We talked for a long time. This was a meeting and a marriage of the mind and the heart. This was also where children expanded on their language. And so, they told their own story:
“Education is not filling a pail but the lighting of a fire.”
-William Butler Yeats-
Stay tuned for Part 2.