There Is a Child Behind Every Page of the Book
By Svetlana Stanislavskaya, Head Teacher
During the first weeks of school, as the children were getting to know each other, the teachers, and Center Room and its yard, the book area was one of the most popular spaces. There were always children on the couch, in the rocking chairs, on the carpet, absorbed in the books of their choice, looking over shoulders at the books their friends had selected, pointing out the books that they already knew.
The student observers in the room kept asking whether the children knew how to read. Brendan recited Owl Babies, rocking back and forth and turning the pages of the book that was resting in his lap. William and Juanito asked one another about their favorite book, “Did you see the sharks? Did you see the hole in the parachute?” Rachel often “read” a book at her snack table as the teacher cut the fruit.
The children’s natural inclination toward books and their desire to become readers led us to focus on books and bookmaking as a project that could involve all the children and be integrated into all areas of the classroom. In the fall quarter we keyed into the children’s particular interests — cooking, collecting leaves, painting at the easels — and put together books reflecting these activities with familiar sequences, events, ideas, and situations so that the children could associate meaning with text. These books appealed to the children in language as well, since they incorporated their own words.
The following books resulted from this bookmaking activity:
• Easel Paintings consisted of children’s paintings bound with a spine of bamboo sticks, with the names of children in alphabetical order as a table of contents. A group of children worked cooperatively in the redwood grove, making a bright cover for this book with paints and water-resistant crayons.
• Cook Book combined printed recipes used for classroom cooking with photographs of children cooking: making cardamom cookies with Lina’s grandma and banana bread with Hanna’s grandma, baking “cakes” in the sand, preparing “freshly caught fish” in the grove, and making “pasta and dumplings” out of play dough. With cooking activities as a springboard for a writing activity, the children dictated their own recipes to the teachers, creating a text in the children’s words.
• Stories with Paintings contained stories that the children dictated to teachers in the art area as they painted with watercolors. Stories evolved as the colors were mixed. The teachers made sure that what the children said was written down exactly so that the children would see writing become a record of their words.
• Leaves of Gold, a beautiful old volume in a leather binding, contained the sequences of activities and objects familiar to children: collecting leaves, jumping in leaf piles, projecting a leaf onto the wall on the patio and tracing its shadow, painting leaves and making prints with them on paper and in clay. Leaves became a recurring theme in our environment, and the book provided opportunities for children to talk about activities centered on leaves, helping them recognize and organize new vocabulary. As Peri B. was leafing through the book with Will T. by her side, she said, “I am looking for the leaf I painted. I did not want to take it home; I wanted it in this book. When I go to kindergarten, I will take it with me. If you want to paint one, you can find it on the ground. I found this [the leaf in the book] near my house.”
• Accordion Books. The children’s masterpieces surprised us with unfolding pages of colorful prints, drawings, words, and musical notes. The children liked that accordion books could stand up and all the pages could be viewed at once. With the help of these books, children gradually realized that stories have a beginning, middle, and end.
• Felt Book came about after teachers noticed the children’s interest in the felt props used to tell stories and gave the children a chance to cut out pieces of felt, dictate stories to go with them, and proudly move the felt props as the stories were read during story time. Denise Rodriguez, a Psychology 147 student, thought that the felt boards seemed small, so that the children had to crowd the felt onto the boards. To provide more space for deeper and longer stories, Denise created a large blank felt book that the children could reuse over and over again. The book helped the children elaborate on their stories, expanding them over the entire book. The cover of the felt book had a clear pocket so that the title could change according to the author’s wish. The children enjoyed filling the felt book and spent long periods playing with it and then listening to their own stories as recorded by Denise.
• Jason McBride, another Stanford student, also contributed to the project by taking note of the books read during story time and putting together a board game with characters from these books.
• Albums containing photos and words entered in chronological order became a running diary of events in Center Room as the year progressed and the children made new friends and acquired new skills. They reflected day-to-day experiences such as taking care of the bunnies, gardening, learning to use woodworking tools, getting better at cooperating, and establishing friendships. These books of collective memory helped us to reflect on the year, and new pictures were added as in the winter the children turned their attention to flying.
During the project we visited the school library, which was undergoing renovation and had all the books removed and new shelves installed. We concentrated then on building our own library inside the classroom. The themes of the books we kept in the classroom and used for story time continually re-emerged in dramatic play, puppet shows, sand play, block play, and conversations. In reading play, the children pretended to read, taking on the identity of readers. They loved re-enacting story time and taking turns with the role of the story time teacher. During snack time they enjoyed “reading” the story and alternating pages and taking turns with the books.
Over time, the children started to recognize books by their covers and developed a sight vocabulary to read the titles of many books. We made use of oversized books (referred to as “big books”) with enlarged print and illustrations so that all the children could see as the books were being read to them.
Our library grew organically as we added more and more pages to the books about children’s activities. Children’s curiosity grew as they looked at the photos, identifying children, adults, and activities they knew and constructing stories from memory of that day’s events. Unlike spoken words, pictures and printed words remain physically present long after initial use, so the children could return and explore at their leisure. They could pursue concepts that they were interested in when picking up a particular book, for information or for pleasure. Every day the children acted as tour guides and book interpreters to the parents and to one another, walking among the books displayed throughout the room.
Parents participated in the project, too. Isabel’s mother, Jean, brought an alphabet book called Bembo’s Zoo that inspires her work as a graphic designer. The children were fascinated by the possibility of making animals out of letters, and the book’s artwork became so popular that it was framed and hung over the piano to becoming an integral part of Center Room. Larkin’s mother, Karen, played her flute to Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and showed the possibility of representing characters with music. All the children were familiar with the book, so the music allowed a new reading of it while the children chimed with each page turned, “I see . . . looking at me.” During story time one day, Kathy, mother of Emma U. and Kenzie U., showed a collection of miniature books published by her grandfather and read from one of them, the Mother Goose rhymes. In very soft voices (“Because the book is so small,” according to Emma R.), the whole class sang “Hickory dickory dock, the mouse went up the clock.” As Will T. examined the miniature books he said, “I can make books smaller than this, and they have pictures and words. And they are my words and I decide when to say ‘The End.’”
This project cultivated the children’s interest in reading. Through book-sharing activities, children learned that reading has a variety of purposes and is fun. They expressed their thoughts and feelings about the stories they shared. They felt that what they were doing was important — it can become part of a book. They learned connections between speech and pictures and print: what is said can be written down, what is written down can then be read, what can be read can be put into a book, and the child becomes the author!
CLAIRE: “I like to make books. Some of the stories I know are true. I like to draw them and write them down and then I like to show them. If people like it a lot, they can buy my book. I can make lots of books, and I can sell some.”