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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!

Welcome Carmen Farina, NYC’s New School Chancellor!

Three years ago, I wrote a Carol’s Wall about the proposed appointment of a new city school chancellor.  I was so upset about the appointment of Cathie Black, that I included an online petition to deny her the waiver she needed to assume the position.  I made the argument that the best person to serve as chancellor was someone with a deep understanding of teaching, a vast knowledge of education theory, and an abundance educational administrative experience.

I was so thrilled when it was announced that Carmen Farina would serve as our new school chancellor! Carmen has all those requirements and more. She is veteran classroom teacher from PS 29, former Principal, Superintendent of District 15, Deputy Chancellor of city schools, and has been longtime educational advisor and advocate of early childhood education.

As far as her qualification for chancellor is concerned, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “She knows it because she’s lived it,” and I could not agree with him more! 

For the past few years, it saddened me to learn how developmentally inappropriate early childhood education had become.  I did not want to, but I could not help but wonder if teaching to the test would become the norm in the New York City DOE.  In her years as an educational advocate, Carmen has de-emphasized standardized testing as a major factor in measuring performance and “teaching to the test.” 

I am also so proud that I had the opportunity to work with Carmen in the past and trust that she will do the right thing for every school-aged child in our fair city.  I am also so happy for every parent and child who leaves CHP to go off to the world of NYC public schools headed by a wonderful child advocate school chancellor who will surely make the changes needed to return our schools to excellence. 

What a way to start a new year!

To learn more about Ms. Farina, please visit:

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