This was a big week for for very young children in the Sheffield-Sheffield Lake School District. Kindergarten and first-grade students celebrated reading in connection with Read Across America while second-grade students traveled the world during Culture Days. Both activities are featured elsewhere in today’s edition. As much fun as the week’s activities were — and they were because I was there two days — I am so impressed with the high levels of engagement and learning I observed.
This is no easy feat. Teachers are already busy ensuring instruction meets ever-changing standards and testing challenges. I have to say, I have yet to meet a teacher in that district who complains about this. Instead, I regularly see them doing more, extending themselves to continually create a positive environment to engage all children in learning. This does not make their days, or weeks, any shorter.
So when principal Gretchen Loper asked me to volunteer a bit of time last Thursday to read to children, it was easy to say yes, despite my hectic schedule.
I’m a book lover and reader. I probably would not be doing what I do today had the adults during my growing-up years not encouraged me to read. It began with fairy tales then progressed to popular children’s literature like “My Friend Flicka,” “Lassie, Come Home,” “Little Women,” “Old Yeller” and “My Side of the Mountain.” I must also include the entire Bobbsey Twin series, followed by all Nancy Drew mysteries. I can look over at my bookcase right now and see some of those books still resting there. Today I realize the purchase of those books placed tension on my family’s weekly budget.
So, there I sat last Thursday afternoon in front of a group of kindergarten students whose teacher had already moved them to a mat where they could sit comfortably. “Criss cross applesauce,” she called out to her students, who immediately crossed their little legs and sat forward to listen.
After introducing myself, I told them I was proud of the hard work they were doing to become good readers. I asked them if they knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. I heard veterinarian, policeman and artist. Several little boys said they wanted to become train conductors and, when I commented about that, the teacher smiled and said books about trains were very popular in her class at the moment.
I read them a Dr. Seuss book called “Great Day for Up,” making sure they could see the illustrations as I read. When I was done, I asked them what they liked about the book and they were able to identify many things that go up. One was a hot air balloon. During the brief “break” she had while I was reading, their teacher had prepared their next activity: working on hot air balloons.
My next stop was to a first-grade classroom. Dr. Seuss’ “Cat in the Hat” was the featured book. “Should I hold the book this way?” I asked the first-graders sitting cross-legged in front of me as I held up a book upside down. “No!” they exclaimed. “Well, how about this way?” I asked, this time displaying the back cover to them. Again, “No!”
I held the book up correctly and asked them to look at the cover and tell me what they thought the book might be about. “A cat,” exclaimed several. “A hat,” stated another.
Turning to page one, I began to read. Some were familiar with the story, others were not. Regardless, they sat and listened, looked at the illustrations and, from time to time, asked questions about what was next.
The story ends with a question. For those whose memories about the story are fuzzy, a mischievous cat shows up on a wet, cold day promising two children some fun through his tricks and games. He makes a mess, then adds to it by introducing Thing 1 and Thing 2 who make an even bigger mess. Mother is not home when all this is happening, and the children’s little fish keeps warning them the cat has to go. Cat does make a final appearance with a big machine that cleans up the mess and exits one door just as Mother enters another. She asks them about their day. The question posed to young readers at the very end of the story is, “What would YOU do if your mother asked you?”
We discussed whether one would tell Mother what Cat did or just keep mum. “Tell the truth” was the apparent choice of those who volunteered. I suspect those who remained quiet were still weighing their options.
Then we talked about reading and why it is important. Just as I had done with the kindergarten class, I asked these children what they wanted to be when they grow up. Some answered doctors, while others answered teachers or artists. A little girl told me she wanted to be an author and yet another said he wanted to design game apps. That impressed me. So I again seized the opportunity to stress they had to be good readers to do those jobs.
I think Seuss captured the importance of reading when he authored “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut.” He wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Yup.