Captured Moments

We have a few labels put out in our garden to help children identify some of the plants growing in the outer environment.

Little wooden strips painted and mounted on wooden stakes, thrust into the ground. But like most things these labels have come to have many uses.

In the past few months, we have had 3 children from the primary environment discover reading through them! A stroll in the garden, has witnessed them sound out each letter on the label and discover that they can read!

A couple of days ago, a child pulled out a label from the earth. Upon being requested to place it back, he obliged but only after he sounded each letter and realised that the label said, ‘pumpkin’!

He had discovered reading!

You can imagine his delight. After that hand in hand with an adult he went to every label and read it, his grin getting broader and broader.

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Working with children it is all about ‘teachable’ moments and sometimes they are hard to miss!

We sat down on the ground, still damp after a recent spell of rains, and with a stick I carefully wrote out a word. He read it, though ‘devoured’ is more like how it was taken. The next thing we knew we were surrounded by a group of children, all wanting a ‘word’ for themselves!

There were several beginning readers, as well as children who had not yet discovered reading for themselves. Each one got a word. The readers read the words for the non-readers, while the latter carefully observed, as their friends de-coded the squiggles in the mud. Over and over again, the children shouted in excitement, “I want to read” , “Give me a word”,  “Write ‘nutella’ for me” and it went on and on!

While carefully drawing the words on the damp ground, I thought of Sylvia Ashton Warner, an educator who worked with Maori children and often took them to the river side to give them words in the sand! (you can download her book titled ‘teacher’, here)

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Now this has become a game that we sometimes play when outdoors and the children have dubbed it, ‘word, word’. 🙂

So how does this happen? How do children ‘discover’ reading, rather than being ‘taught’ reading?

Any note on reading cannot begin without a mention of the child’s sensitivity to language between birth to 6 years. A child passes through special times in her life when she easily incorporates a particular ability into her schema if allowed to practice it exhaustively during this time. Montessori called the unique sensitivities of young children ‘sensitive periods’. Her understanding of sensitive periods has now been confirmed by modern science and even popular culture, with Time magazine calling it ‘windows of opportunity’. The child ages birth to six years old passes through three significant sensitive periods; those for order, movement and language.

Reading in the Montessori method, is a synthesis of many individual strands that a child ties together for herself.

The path to reading looks something like this:

All through their time in the primary Montessori environment, children are given the tools to build a rich and precise vocabulary. The environment itself is one in which a love for language should be in the ‘air’. Good quality poetry and books should be read to the children and made available in the reading corner. A love and respect for books should be modelled by the adults.

Children imbibe the left to right orientation required for reading, through engagement with the exercises of practical life. As they spoon grain from one container to another, pour water from a jug into wee glasses and cups, prepare their places to make dough or flower arrangements, they not only gain in independence but in effect are working on the left to right orientation required for reading. The step-by-step procedure in a presentation, helps children indirectly gain the ability to sequence. Again, another pre-requisite for reading. They are also gaining the ability to concentrate.

Through their work with the sensorial materials, they gain the ability to compare and contrast their sensorial impressions. They hone their visual discrimination skills, required to discriminate between the shapes of letters for reading.

Then there are the ‘sound games’ or ‘oral phonetic analysis’. A simple game played with the youngest children where they practice recognising individual sounds in a word. They are able to pick out beginning sounds, ending sounds, middle sounds and finally sequence all the individual sounds in a word. Through these games, they discover that words are made of individual sounds and enjoy picking out sounds in the words that they encounter in their daily lives.

Children are introduced to the sandpaper letters where they trace the letters over and over again. Through this they connect the squiggle to the sound it represents. They associate sound with symbol. Indirectly they are building a motor memory of the symbol for writing, which will come later.

And then there is the moveable alphabet. A child builds words with cut outs of the letters of the alphabet. They carefully sound out the individual sounds of the word they wish to build and then identify the corresponding symbol and place them in sequence on their mat. Can they read what they have built at this time? No, not yet, but this too is an important step towards reading which is yet to come.

With exposure to all of this, by and large most children, tie these different strands together and voila! you have reading – reading, as a point of arrival!

Reading ‘discovered’ rather than ‘taught’ is a joyful process and the child can truly say, “I have taught myself to read!”

“It is the adult who makes learning to read and write difficult when he or she approaches the two as subjects to be conquered, rather than discoveries to be made.” ~ Maria Montessori

Ode to The Lost Russian Book

For many of us who were kids in the 80’s, the mere mention of Russian books instantly brings a light into our eyes.

As a part of Soviet propaganda they were made available all over India, touching the lives of many children growing up in the 80’s. The books were highly subsidised and inexpensive with hardcover books being no more than a couple of rupees. They were translated not only into English but also into the many regional languages of India.

Reading them we were instantly transported into a rosy Russia. Mishka, Natasha and Yuri were familiar names. Baba Yaga was known to many of us. The jewelled colours of Russian folk art coloured our imaginations, as did the turrets of Moscow.

Even now, in many second hand bookstores around India, you will chance upon some of these books. This is becoming much rarer though. Up until 5 years ago, booksellers selling their wares on footpaths still had many of these Russian titles but not so much any more. Russian books in India are getting harder to find.

Re- reading these books of my childhood makes me marvel at how well the Soviets made their books for children. The illustrations are absolutely stunning, ranging from decorative Russian folk art to more minimalist graphics. The content of the books too are of good quality.

All in all, the books demonstrate respect for the children who read them.

In fact, some of the non-fiction titles we have in the library are used year in and out by the children at school for referencing!

Bringing the Russian books of the 80’s to the children of today, makes the child that I once was, sing.

A Ticket To Ride - Nikolai Osipov (Raduga Publishers)

A Ticket To Ride – Nikolai Osipov (Raduga Publishers) Illustrating seed dispersal via animals

How People Discovered The Shape Of The earth - Anatoly Tomilin (Raduga Press)

How People Discovered The Shape Of The earth – Anatoly Tomilin (Raduga Publishers) Illustrating the Indian view of the world. The world being an enormous tortoise floating in a sea of milk, with 4 elephants on the turtles back that raised the round, flat earth on their mighty backs

How people Discovered The Shape of the Earth - Anatoly Tomilin

How people Discovered The Shape of the Earth – Anatoly Tomilin (Raduga Publishers) Illustrating the ruler of the Maldives Islands and his beloved and lucrative Seychelles Palm

Barankin's Fantasy World - Valery Medvedev (Raduga Publishers)

Barankin’s Fantasy World – Valery Medvedev (Raduga Publishers)

Barankin’s Fantasy World – Valery Medvedev (Raduga Publishers)

Barankin’s Fantasy World – Valery Medvedev (Raduga Publishers)

A Ticket To Ride - Nikolai Osipov (Raduga Publishers)

A Ticket To Ride – Nikolai Osipov (Raduga Publishers)

BOOKS WE LOVE – PART 2

Here are some books loved by our older children aged 5 1/2 years to 9 years. This is certainly not a definitive list, but some random pickings from the ones that the children seem to go back to time and again.

If like me, you enjoy reading ‘children’s’ books, these are delightful. Like CS Lewis said, “No book is really worth reading at age 10 which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at age 50”

Is-a-Blue-Whale-the-Biggest-Thing-There-Is-Wells-Robert-E-9780606142373

IS THE BLUE WHALE THE BIGGEST THING THERE IS ? by ROBERT.E.WELLS

Just when you think of the Blue Whale as BIG, the book takes you on a journey from BIG to STUPENDOUS …  Mount Everest, Earth, our Sun, to Antares – a red giant star, the Milky Way, right to the size of the universe itself. All are depicted as relative sizes and children are absolutely fascinated by the book.

This book is perfect for elementary aged children who are making sense of their world, and indeed the universe, through their imagination. Imagination for the elementary child is akin to touch for the younger, primary child. They want to know about everything that they cannot see but still need concrete clues as aids to their imagination.

The other two books in this series that the children love are:

pygmy

HOW SMALL IS THE PYGMY SHREW?

Takes the reader from a pygmy shrew, to the ladybug, to drops of water, to the protists living in those drops of water, all the way to the parts of an atom. Going from small to tiny to miniscule appeals to the elementary childs imagination.

can_you_count_to_a_google

CAN YOU COUNT TO A GOOGOOL?

Anyone who has worked with an elementary aged child knows that they are enamoured by big numbers. This book gives children an understanding of just how big, the big numbers they like to throw around actually are.

dragons

ERIC CARLE’S DRAGONS DRAGONS AND OTHER CREATURES THAT NEVER WERE by ERIC CARLE

The elementary children LOVE mythology and poetry. Dragons Dragons has both! It is a collection of poems of mythological creatures that features fantastical beasts from all parts of the world – from the Phoenix to the Yeti and the Garuda. The children seem to instinctively know that the book isn’t talking ‘down’ to them and has no flashy, cutesy enticements. It is what it is – excellent poetry, great visuals and a world of fantasy.

ABC3dABC 3D

Pop-Up books have a special place in the hearts of children and this one runs away with the prize. It is intelligent, witty and simply delightful.

I don’t know how to embed a video yet, so follow the link below to see the book in action.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnZr0wiG1Hg

Sidewalk

WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS by SHEL SILVERSTEIN

Quirky, funny poetry – just up the elementary child’s alley.

totochan

TOTO CHAN – THE LITTLE GIRL IN THE WINDOW by TETSUKO KORONYAGI

Toto Chan’s classroom is a discarded train boogie! Toto Chan herself is whimsical and quirky and children relate to her instantly. They find many similarities between Toto Chan’s school and ours and are always ready for our next story reading session. The nice thing about the book is that each chapter is a little incident complete in itself, and is ideal for read aloud sessions.

all_small_poems1

ALL THE SMALL POEMS AND FOURTEEN MORE by VALERIE WORTH

Valerie Worth is simply brilliant! Her poems encapsulate simplicity at its best! Her poems open our eyes to the beauty in the most ‘ordinary’ of objects.

Custard-and-Company-Poems-Cover

CUSTARD AND COMPANY by OGDEN NASH

An often requested book. The children enjoy these funny poems, much like they enjoy the poems of Shel Silverstein. The two most loved poems in the book are, ‘The Boy Who Laughed At Santa Claus’ and ‘The Tale of Custard the Dragon’

Ionesco - Story Number 2 (Failly)025

STORY NUMBER 2 by EUGENE IONESCO

Having been recently donated to our library by a friend, I was curious as to how the children would react to the book which reverses usual relationships. When we started reading, first there was disbelief, followed by some giggles and then belly-hurting laughter. Needless to say, there is a long list of children who now want to borrow ‘Story Number 2’.

INVITATION by Shel Silverstein

If you are a dreamer, come in.

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer,

If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire, For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.

Come in! Come in!!

Lucy and the Green Man

lucy

Sometimes things just come together.

I had been looking for that ‘perfect’ chapter book to read to the children at school and then quite unexpectedly, in the mail, I received the answer to my search.

Lucy and the Green Man by Linda Newbery is a delightful book perfect for children ages 7 and up.

We finished our reading yesterday and all the children were happy with the ending but also a little sad that the book was over.

With masterful language and pen and ink drawings, Lucy and the Green Man, slows us down in our fast paced lives, imbibes the ‘simple, everyday’ with magic, is firmly rooted in wildness and has a depth of emotion that children can relate to.

If you are looking for a book to read aloud to your children, here is a gem!

world poetry day

image found here

We read A LOT of poetry at school. Poems are special gifts we give each other. Lillian Moore, Valerie Worth, Shel Silverstein, Edward Lear, Basho are all familiar names – friends that delight and make us ponder.

The 21st of March was World Poetry Day and given our love of poetry, we celebrated it at school.

As any Montessori guide will tell you it’s all about the process and I am particularly glad at how the preparations for the day went.

It was so simple, child-led and has generated so much of enthusiasm.

A few days before the event, I spoke to the children about the World Poetry Day and asked each child to spend some time finding a poem they would like to share with the others.

The next morning and through the day, I saw children in 2’s and 3’s sitting in the library corner. I observed them refer to several books, read a few poems to their friends, ask their opinion and finally choose a poem for themselves.

Here are some of the poems the children chose:

Eagle a poem by the Papago Indians from Animals Animals by Eric Carle

Tiger by Valerie Worth from All The Small Poems And Fourteen More 

Red by Lillian Moore from I Feel The Same Way 

The Unicorn by Rainer Maria Rilke from Dragons Dragons and Other Creatures That Never Were by Eric Carle

The Nicest Pet by Charlotte Pomerantz from Halfway To Your House by Charlotte Pomerantz

Several children decided to copy write and illustrate the poems they had chosen and this spontaneously caught on with all the others. The children had added one more step to the process.

Then they committed the poem to memory. I modeled how to do it and they went to a quiet space, reading and re-reading the poem till they felt they had ‘got it’. This is when they called in a peer, who ‘took up’ the poem for them. It was interesting to hear the conversations at these times – “Oh! you forgot a line – come lets say the poem together and then you can try again” or “I do think you should say this s-l-o-w-l-y”

Once the child was sure of the poem, I invited her and a peer to the amphitheater and demonstrated how to ‘throw’ ones voice so that each person in the audience would be able to hear them. The peer sat at different points in the amphitheater and provided feedback on clarity.

After they were satisfied with the recitation, they returned to class to choose their next work.

Through this entire time, the children were independent, purposeful and enthusiastic. Not once did I have to intervene or re-direct. My only job was to provide  clear guidelines and  structure at each step. The 3 hour work cycle was not broken for practice sessions but rather the entire thing flowed into it like any other work chosen.

On the day, besides the children reciting their poems, some of the teachers joined in too. There was Kannada poetry as well.

While speaking with a parent shortly after World Poetry Day, I learnt that their daughter suggested that for weekend fun they memorize a poem together!

Now I’m sure some of you are asking the question “Why memorize poems at all? What is the point?”

Going by the experience that I have had with children, they delight in poetry.

I think this is step one – read a lot of good quality poetry and let a love of poetry pervade the environment.

After that memorizing a poem one loves, allows a child to experience the poem – the words enter her soul and she makes the poem, hers.

Here’s what Jim Holt wrote in The New York Times about reciting a poem from memory:

It’s a physical feeling, and it’s a deeply pleasurable one. You can get something like it by reading the poem out loud off the page, but the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within. (The act of reading tends to spoil physical pleasure.) It’s the difference between sight-reading a Beethoven piano sonata and playing it from memory — doing the latter, you somehow feel you come closer to channeling the composer’s emotions. And with poetry you don’t need a piano.

That’s my case for learning poetry by heart. It’s all about pleasure. And it’s a cheap pleasure. Between the covers of any decent anthology you have an entire sea to swim in.

To end here’s an excerpt from ‘Eating Poetry‘ by Mark Strand :

EATING POETRY 

 Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.

There is no happiness like mine.

I have been eating poetry