Month: August 2011

The Storybook Journey

This post is for you teachers out there who are feeling bored, burned out and desperately need something new to revive you. If you’re already familiar with the Storybook Journey curriculum, then please feel free to post some of your experiences with it. If not, I’ll do my best to persuade you why I think it’s one of the best curriculum philosophies around.

The Storybook Journey was created many years ago by one of my mentors, Sue McCord, in Boulder, CO. It began simply as a means to draw out one particular boy with a language delay. Sue discovered the boy was fascinated with the story of Peter Pan, and by re-creating the world of Neverland in her classroom, and revolving her activities around this story, eventually she was able to inspire Dylan to not only begin talking, but also to be a leader in the room.

When I first met Sue in 2009, the idea for introducing the Storybook Journey in my own classroom came at the perfect time. I was just beginning with a new group of children and felt like I needed a jumpstart for the year. As with almost all children, my class loved books and there always seemed to be a “favorite story” of the moment. So a curriculum that revolved around the kids choosing a story they liked and exploring it? Fantastic! I jumped at the chance to try it.

Should you decide to give the Storybook Journey a try, here’s where you may find it challenging……………it is designed to be CHILD-DRIVEN. Translation: you teachers that live to plan everything out (and I was one of them for a very long time), will have a tough time sitting back a bit and letting your students direct traffic so to speak. The children get to choose the book, they get to think up activities and they get to execute the ideas. You may have to slowly wean them off your current system – it took my kids awhile to begin to feel like they were really in charge:)

Ultimately, what worked best for us that year in my Pre-K classroom, was when the children decided on a book, we would then have a brainstorming session together, and “plan” what book-related activities we thought would be fun to try. This way, the kids were driving the curriculum, but I had a road-map of what we might accomplish along the way.

What I loved best about our experience that year with The Storybook Journey was that we actually could see the  children grow cognitively and creatively with each book. In August, when we journeyed through our first story, Caps for Sale, the teachers had to do some fairly significant nudging in order to get ideas from the kids. By the Spring, with our last book, “Swimmy”, by Leo Lionni, the children were not only driving almost every activity, but also began going off on some amazing tangents.

We talked about authors and illustrators and they brought in other Lionni books from home, or recognized them on the bookshelf. They spent a whole day talking about his book “Inch by Inch” and measuring themselves in units of “inchworms”. It was decided that an Inchworm Habitat in the classroom was a must and they each made inchworms out of modeling clay and created a 3Dimensional world of personalized worms.

In previous years, where our class activities were predominantly teacher directed, I’m fairly certain something like what I described above would not have happened. I absolutely loved putting aside my own agenda and just facilitating what these incredibly bright, creative and energetic children could do all on their own. Watching them get better at it with each book and become more sophisticated with each idea was just priceless. More importantly, the sense of empowerment we created in the room that year was truly tangible.

Now keep in mind that this was a class of 4 and 5 year olds. As the facilitator, I made sure the environment in the room was stimulating and related to the book. I also made sure any materials they might want to use, construct with, and play with were available. In younger classrooms, there will probably be more teacher direction. But at a minimum, the choice of books and the length of time they are interested in a story can/should be child driven.

I learned so much that year from the Storybook Journey about how you can still “direct traffic” in your room but not be a planning machine. This curriculum gave the children so much creative room to grow and was so empowering – just what they needed as they headed off to kindergarten.

This year I made a return to the world of Toddlers and to say I was unsure about how the Storybook Journey would work with 1 and 2 year olds, is an understatement. 11 months later, I couldn’t be more pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Our most recent journey was with the ever-popular book “Jamberry” and it was so much fun! I think the kids are now officially obsessed with hot air balloons, bears, fruit and canoes. We explored 3 other stories this past year and “Wheels on the Bus” is still our most requested song, “Old MacDonald” our most requested book, and from a little known book called “Whose Shoes” we became shoe and feet experts:) We used a lot of imagination & duct tape and made big yellow buses, silos,  hot air balloons and in general, hung a lot of stuff from the ceiling!

For more information on the Storybook Journey, please feel free to email me, , order the book “The Storybook Journey- Pathways to Learning through Story and Play” by Sue McCord available on Amazon, or visit (scroll down on the homepage to find Sue McCord).

I have also attached a lesson plan of a journey we made through the book “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” in 2009.Cloudy w Meatballs

The Fine Art of Dumping

Would it help all the adults out there relax a bit if they knew that dumping toys was actually a way for children to polish a very important fine-motor skill? I sincerely hope so, and I will attempt to justify this developmental stage (actually one of my favorite stages – scout’s honor) in this post. My toddlers this year may very well be the best dumpers on the planet Earth. Seriously, they have worked so hard at it, gotten so good at it, and most importantly, LOVE DUMPING TOYS. My staff and I compliment them on their skills at every available moment – how thoroughly they dump, how quickly, whether they “scatter” their dumps or just go for the “straight” kind.

Yes, perhaps since I am coming from the perspective of a teacher, where my classroom is set up solely for the enjoyment of the children, I can be a lot more relaxed about the dumping phase. Your collection of antique plates in the dining room? Not a suitable dumping opportunity. However, when I went online to do a little dumping research, all I came across were parent blogs with harried moms complaining about dumping, and begging people for advice on how to end the phase.  Tragic! and Impossible! It’s like trying to end the phases of the moon. I will reluctantly admit that a child developing the capability to “empty out” months before the capability (and possibly years before the desire) to “put back in” is ironic, and challenging to your patience level. BUT IT GIVES THEM SO MUCH PLEASURE! Dumping can be one of the safest, most empowering, most educational and entertaining games they’ll ever play! EMBRACE IT.

“I know I saw those red sunglasses in here somewhere”

“What are you lookin at? I thought ALL the stuffed animals should be on this pillow”

So here are some ways for adults to more fully channel our inner dumping patience: 1) Prevent dangerous emptying – childproof your house and make sure harmful products and breakables are inaccessible. 2) Provide opportunities for safe and fun dumping – yes, you heard me – provide opportunities! Create boxes of non-essential items that your child can dump to their heart’s content – fabric, tupperware, toys, wooden spoons, plastic cups, etc., 3) Play the “Put it Back” game sometimes – have races to see who can fill it back up the fastest (there’s that timing phenomenon again) or “you put in one toy and then I’ll put one in” is a Turn-Taking stroke of genius:)

I once heard from a parent, “But it’s seems so unstructured!” In this instance I always refer to one of the teachers I admire the most, Bev Bos, who believes there is an important distinction between structure and control. We should “structure” the environment and let the children “control” how/when/where they play.

So next time your little ones go to dump something, consider not only the fine-motor skills they are honing (hand and finger strength), but also, the enormous sense of accomplishment and empowerment this epic dump will bring them. Consider the “Cause and Effect” concept it teaches them, the “Sorting” opportunity you now have, or maybe just that it keeps them occupied for a while so you can unload the dishwasher:) Go forth and Dump!! (p.s. The best, most thorough dumper  in my class is also, by far, my best picker-upper)