Occasionally, I regret not majoring in creative writing for my undergrad degree or consider a masters in children’s writing. But the truth is that I am continuing my education everyday. I attend graduate school at a handful of preschools, elementary schools, and camps for teens across Asheville. Surely, my firsthand experience of books in the classroom is worth some kind of diploma.
Here are a few things I’ve learned from my courses.
In addition to being age-appropriate, books are most successful in a preschool classroom when kids can actively engage in them. Wiggly kids will sit in circle time longer if they can contribute animal sounds, chant along with a refrain, easily guess what will happen next, or if a silly surprise in the story gets the whole class laughing together.
Books are more likely to be used in a preschool classroom if they fit into a basic category, like ‘colors’ or ‘getting dressed.’ Between this and the animal sounds, you can see why there are approximately 9 billion barnyard books for kids.
Sorry, that Animal Farm joke was a little loaded. Maybe keep Orwell out of your board books…
Public Elementary Schools 101:
Kids’ shrinking attention spans aren’t the only reason for publishers’ 500 word manuscript standard. Unlike preschools that hold two story times a day, elementary school teachers are on a tight crunch. When they do fit in time for a book, it has to have a purpose.
Like preschools, elementary schools are more likely to utilize books that fit into relevant topics. Public elementary schools across the country are implementing the Common Core curriculum. You can read more about it here, but basically, it is helpful when books can supplement units on history/social studies or science.
Discipline is also a hot topic in public education. Teachers spend a lot of time teaching kids how to be people, but with the tight educational agenda, they don’t always have this time to spend. Although I don’t like to preach preachiness, elementary schools definitely have a place for books that help kids internalize kindness and how to be a citizen of the world.
Intro to Waldorf, Montessori, and Emilia:
These alternative educational approaches are very different from each other. For example, while Montessori focuses on children’s rational abilities from a young age, Waldorf teaches through a lens of natural beauty and art. But these styles have commonalities as well. Without the strict state standards, kids determine the pace of learning. These classrooms provide space for greater creative freedom, encourage more hands-on learning, and give children greater ownership over their education.
When you apply these philosophies to children’s books, it tells us that it’s okay for stories to be slow paced. Books are not just a unit supplement, but a space for kids to discover beauty, exercise their curiosity, and unleash their imaginations. When kids are given some authority over their education, books should not only inform them, but inspire them. (Fortunately, we children’s book writers already knew that…)
No matter what technique is used in the classroom, you might think that after a full day of structure and education, kids would be done with books. I work with kids after school every day and watch them put down their Legos and abandon swingsets to listen to a story. Instead of playing board games, older kids will sequester themselves in a corner with a chapter book.
Books have such an important role in education, but it is not their only role. Books give kids space to unwind when school is done. Books can provide a bonding experience between kids and adults. Books are fun.
Schools need books. But even more, kids need books.