Monday, March 1, 2010

Writing Across America

A co-worker called me on Friday en route to Target.  I was jealous (I unabashedly adore Target) until he told me the purpose of his trip -- to get materials for his kindergartener's "Dr. Seuss book costume."  Being a practical parent, he was going the simple route -- posterboard to make green eggs and ham. 

Of course all the teachers among us know that tomorrow marks Dr. Seuss' birthday and the NEA's annual Read Across America Day.  How many parents have been scrambling for materials to make extravagant tributes to Dr. Seuss? 

As a kid, I was never (sacrilege, I know) a huge Seuss fan.  Neither are my own children, though "Dibble dibble dop" is one of our very favorite nonsensical things to say.  However, Green Eggs and Ham was the basis of one of the most moving television scenes ever, IMO -- on St. Elsewhere -- so I am probably the only person I know who thinks of Dr. Seuss and instantly wants to cry.

My daughter, at age 4 and 11/12, just last night read a whole REAL book at bedtime for the first time.  Oh, the excitement in our household!  Of course no one was more excited than she.  (Once upon a time, she worried that learning to read would mean that she would no longer be READ TO.  I think she has finally overcome this fear.) 

Kate goes to a Montessori school, and one of the precepts of the curriculum, I recently discovered, is that kids typically learn to write before they learn to read.  Perhaps some of you early childhood educators could shed some light on this concept.  At any rate, Kate has been using a "moveable alphabet" to sound out words since she was three.  Her spelling is atrocious, but her sense of phonics is pretty impressive.  Just this week she brought home her first story:

Then, the fire-breathing dragon put her in a cage.  Later, the princess saw a police.  Finally, the police put the princess out of the cage.

I'm so proud of my little author!

My mother had to point out the anachronism of police and fire-breathing dragons co-existing, but she didn't seem to have a problem with the amusement park. :)

I will tell you what I love about Kate's school.  I love that her teachers don't correct her spelling.  I love that they encourage creativity and allow her to think for herself.  And I really, really love this exercise.  It teaches beginning, middle, end.  First, next, last.  Story structure!  The rule of threes!  It gives encouragement and prompts, but it leaves the bulk of the imagining to the child.  Between fire-breathing dragons and princesses, what four-year-old boy or girl would not be engaged in the topic?  The next day, Kate had to create an advertising slogan for a perfume for skunks.  The result was unprintable, but again -- genius!

I don't know when it is that writing -- and often reading -- start to become a chore, something to be dreaded.  But for some kids, obviously the joy persists.  I pray that my daughter will always come home and say, "I need a pencil.  I want to write a story!"

--Jeanne Marie


Diane said...

Jeanne, I love, too, that this teacher doesn't stifle the writing process with "spelling" but allows the child to just let it flow! What a gift to the process and to the little writer. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this little one grows up to write gorgeous childrens literature?

Carmela Martino said...

What fun to see Kate's writing. Thanks so much for sharing!

Sandra Stiles said...

Thanks for sharing the wonderful story. Unfortunately as a remedial reading teacher I can tell you that reading and writing become a chore when Districts mandate form type writing that take the creativity away from children. They are told when, where, how and what to write about. The same goes for reading. Our district has a core curriculum for all subjects and Language Arts has a set of novels to read at each grade level. It doesn't matter if the child doesn't like the genre, etc., they are forced to read and regurgitate and do a "project" dictated to them by the district. This is why I (having a canned reading program) have told the district and principal that I will do their program and then fill in with my own. We read their stories and do their worksheets together then I create a program. I bring back choice to reading, although they are required 10 books from 7 genres they choose the books and I do story starters that they finish as they want and we work on beginning, middle, and end and transitions. Keep making it fun for your daughter.

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Sandra, my husband has a similar struggle as a middle school teacher. Thank goodness for hard-working teachers like you who work to preserve the students' ability to choose books that interest them. I know you're right -- as I look back, it was in late middle and early high school where too many boring books killed my desire to read for pleasure for a very long time.

Diane, thanks so much for the encouragement! I will be sure to pass it along to Kate.