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There is No Place Like Home

Choosing the unit for the school year is a bit like catching lightening in a bottle.  Our program is tailored to the likes and interests of the children and the children are the ones who let us know what their interests are. This concept might seem strange to an adult learner, but preschoolers’ interests light their fires. Then, within the context of their interests, we infuse developmentally appropriate literacy, math, science, music, art and drama related to the unit concept. 

How do I find out what children want to learn more about?

It starts in the spring. I become a careful listener in the classroom in an effort to find out what the children might be interested in learning the following year. The unit needs to be broad enough to encompass all the disciplines.  I also work very closely with the staff at CHP.  We have weekly group meetings and I meet with each staff member individually.  Each spring, either from the students or the staff, I get an idea about what will be the unit for the following year. That’s the lightening in the bottle part! 

Last spring when the children were working on the amazing transportation mural located in our library area, Nancy, our art teacher, told me that the children working on the mural were just as excited to make the many little homes now on the mural as they were in making the fanciful transportation vehicles. Nancy and I often work closely on the art projects developed at CHP. Eureka! 

A unit about homes. So many possibilities! 

I mentioned the home unit to the staff before the school year ended and they were immediately on board!  This summer, I perused bookstores and websites to collect a nice cache of books (picture books, ABC books, science, math, and music books) featuring the concept of home.

This fall, together we will share what we know about our own homes. The unit will begin in Brooklyn. Your homework assignment is to send in a photo of your home and family.  Isn’t this a nice way for us all to get to know each other?  If you like, please reach out to your family. Maybe someone in your extended family might want to send in a photo of his or her home outside the urban confines of NYC. An interesting home in NYC would be great too! 

Once the unit is underway, we will branch out to explore what we want to know about parts unknown, animal homes and the like. We will eventually cap off the unit with what we have learned about what makes a home a home.

I am very excited about this unit.  It's going to be a great year!

Sophie’s Squash

May’s Book of the Month selection is Sophie’s Squash, a picture book story about gardening, seasons, loyalty, forever friendship, love and life.  Why post a Book of the Month and Carol’s Wall installment about the same subject?   Read on!

As you know, every staff member at CHP reads to, at least, one snack group a week.  I am very happy that I am included in the rotation.  I am a grand children’s picture book lover and am always researching great new books for the CHP library.  When I find one, I share it with the staff and introduce it at my snack time read.  After I read, I ask the children for questions or comments about the new book.  The best way I know which new book is a “winner” is by the attention of the group—the children are quiet and poised to hear what will happen next and I can see their happy faces at the conclusion of the book.

At my first snack read of Sophie’s Squash, Caroline Ryburn was helping out.  She had never heard of the new book before.  After the read, Caroline shared a personal story. Caroline’s children, Dora and Julian, were both students at CHP.  Dora was in my first class at CHP and Julian was born while Caroline was teaching at CHP. Now he is a college freshman! 

Caroline told us that, when Julian was about four years old, she brought home a goose-neck squash for dinner. Like Sophie, Julian fell in love with the squash, so much so, that he gave it a name: Timmy. Caroline’s family never ate the squash as it became a little vegetable member of the family. With time, Timmy got old and began to rot. So many years later, Caroline and her family still remember Timmy the squash!

After Caroline shared her story, I decided to buy a squash for CHP.  As I stood in the fruit store, I picked up each squash to see which one would be the right weight for the children in the classroom. Ironically, I felt very maternal holding each butternut squash like a baby!  I brought my choice to CHP and Lizzie put a face on the squash with a Sharpie pen.  Our “Bernice” has been very popular!  Amanda has been working on a measurement unit, so of course the students weighed and measured our new addition.   Our little “Bernice” wears a little orange bow on its head, and students often carry it around the classroom, wrapped in a blanket. Bernice even gets a bottle every now and then. 

We are going to play with our squash until it gets older, freckled and soft, just like the squash in the book. Once our squash begins to rot, Lizzie will invite the children to the science center to plant the squash seeds inside, and then wait and watch to see what happens.

I thought this Carol’s Wall would be about Sophie and her squash, just in case you might want to follow our lead at home.  If your children loved this story, take a walk to K and Y on Court Street or your favorite fruit stand and let your child pick out their own squash.  Go home and decorate it, name it, but do not eat it for dinner!  Once the squash begins to decay, cut it open, remove the seeds and plant them. 

In this age of technology, there is something so dear about playing with a vegetable and experiencing the wonders of nature first hand.  I wish my own children were little again, so that I could buy the squash of their choosing--I know just where in my yard I would plant it too!

The Benefits of Reading Children’s Books in Series

Franklin in the Dark was my choice for the February 2014 Book of the Month.  I chose it because the Franklin series has become quite beloved at CHP; I thought that Carol’s Wall would be the best way to tell you why.

Franklin stories are pre-kindergarten- and Kindergarten-centric.  Franklin the turtle and his friends and family often walk the same path as our CHP kids.  Children can relate to the stories effortlessly and thoroughly enjoy the conclusion of the story because nothing is ever left unsettled; every story reaches a satisfying resolution. 

I love reading to children, and I take that responsibility quite seriously.  A few weeks ago, for one of my snack reads, I dusted off two old treasury books of Franklin stories that had belonged to my children. I read the first Franklin story to a group of “Second Snackers,” the older students at CHP. 

The first story I read was Franklin in the Dark and my listeners were hooked!  Before I ended the read, I gave the group a choice of another Franklin story for our next snack read. The children chose Franklin Wants a Pet.  On more than one occasion before I read again, students stopped me in the classroom and asked if I was going to read another Franklin story.  When the time came to read again, the children were very excited.  During the read, I heard about the pets in their own family and the pets they hoped to have one day—I even spoke to the students about my own pets!

Since that initial read, I have read almost a dozen more Franklin stories.  Because of the Franklin excitement, I have also added some additional Franklin book collections to the CHP library. 

Why read a well-loved children’s book in a series?  Because it offers so many opportunities for learning.  Here is a bit of some of the learning opportunities and tips for reading books in a series.

  • I use literary terms to talk about parts of the book; words like title, author, illustrator, subject and characters.
  • Before I read a new selection, I allow the group to vote—Which story would you like to hear next?  The democratic process abounds at CHP!
  • Before I read a new story, I ask the group to recall the titles of the stories we read before.  The children raise their hands and name the stories previously read.  I am always amazed at their memory on this, as we have now read a lot of stories.  This is a great opportunity for recall and turn taking and it also is a testimony to how much they enjoy these books.
  • When I am reading the story, I often stop when Franklin encounters something the group may have confronted in their lives too.  Again, the children take turns sharing their stories and they learn that not only Franklin, but they and their classmates, may have walked the same path.
  • Franklin does not always know what to do; he does not always know the best way to solve a problem.  Often the children in the group may have encountered the problem Franklin is struggling with.  This is a great opportunity to brainstorm as a group.
  • Socio-emotional issues are not always easy to talk about or identify. Again, there is the opportunity for a fruitful discussion of how to either help Franklin or to share the fact that they may need help for their own similar problem.  The reading of Franklin is Bossy lent itself to quite a spirited discussion!

There are a number of preschool book series like the Froggy series by Jonathan London, Mo Willems’ Pigeon and/or Elephant and Piggie series, Pete the Cat books by Eric Litwin, Olivia the Pig books by Ian Falconer, Moonbear books by Frank Asch, and more.

When choosing a series of books, make sure the listener is invested in the character.  Remember too, never read a book to a child without reading it first. Also, one of the pitfalls of reading a book series is that the first book in the series might be fabulous and so the popularity of the book might spur a sequel. That sequel, though, might not hold a candle to the original book. 

There is another lovely benefit of reading books in series. The listening child who grows into an adult might retain that vested interest in the book character. And then, these warm feelings might translate into reading the same stories to their own children. I still have some of my own children’s books and when the time came that I could read them to my children, it was absolutely magic!

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