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, firstname.lastname@example.org , order the book “The Storybook Journey- Pathways to Learning through Story and Play” by Sue McCord available on Amazon, or visit www.speechlanguagepractice.org (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