In Susan Marie Swanson's, picture book, Letter to the Lake, the main character Rosie spends a gray winter morning yearning for summer. She imagines the blue lake water, the green trees, a silver rowboat, and the golden sun. The winter scenes of this book are done in shades of gray. In contrast, the summer scenes explode with a myriad of colors.
In a way, I'm a lot like Rosie. I spend winter days designing curricula, professional development materials, planning guides, and songs for summer programs. During the winter months I craft texts in black print on white pages, envisioning and hoping that they will influence summer learning experiences for children. In the summer, however, I get to see what I imagine come to life in full color, in Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative (HSLI) programs.
The Nature Curriculum and Universal Literacy Strategies
Over the past few weeks I have visited several HSLI programs in western Massachusetts. My visits have focused on documenting the implementation of two components of our work: our nature curriculum and universal literacy strategies.
The nature curriculum focuses on the habitats of the meadow, pond, and forest. Programs study one or more of these habitats, and how adaptations of organisms support survival in these places. Children observe birds, plants, insects, and mammals in their program yard, and they take field trips to sites including Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Otis Reservoir, Forest Park, and D.A. R. State Forest. The goal of the curriculum is to help children develop an awareness and appreciation of nature.
Literacy strategies are integrated into the curriculum. The goal of our literacy work is to support learners so that they maintain or advance their reading achievement during the summer months. Our work supports the implementation of the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for ELA and Literacy that include the following:
Speaking and Listening
Literature (including drama and poetry)
All of these components are integrated into HSLI programs.
The major strategies that I focus on in this piece are reading to, with, and by children. We call these universal strategies because they can be employed by all children. The to, with, and by model was first described by New Zealand educator, Margaret Mooney, who wrote
They [children] learn to read by:
seeing and hearing others read.
listening to others read to them.
reading with others.
reading by themselves and to others.
Rich learning is taking place at HSLI sites in Holyoke, Springfield, Chicopee, and Westfield.
Below are just a few portraits of that learning.
Reading To Children
When I visited Katherine Madrack's classroom in the Holyoke Public Schools' project GRAD, I found her reading a big book entitled Life in a Pond to a group of young children. Catherine not only read the book to the children, but she also stopped and allowed time for them to talk about the detailed photographs of the dragonfly the frog and the other creatures in the book.
Other titles suggested in the nature curriculum were placed on the ledge of the chalkboard in the room. The covers face out, providing the children with eye-level access to the books. Adults will read these books aloud, and then invite the children to read them as well. Many of these books are nonfiction, informational texts.
Reading With Children
When I walked into Heather DesRochers' class in Springfield, the first thing I noticed was an attractive reading area. Three bookcases were arranged to create this inviting space. The books were placed so that they were easily accessible the children. Informational texts were clearly labeled as such.
The morning I was there, Ms DesRochers and the children were engaged in lively singing. The songs were printed on large charts, and the teacher and children followed the words and acted out the movements. Pairing actions, music, and words helps children remember the song. Novice readers do not have to read on their own. Rather, they are supported by the other readers around them. The songs remain posted in the room throughout the day so that the children can revisit them. Reading and singing the songs repeatedly helps children to gain fluency. Children learn both common vocabulary words that are used frequently in the songs and less familiar words that are unique to the songs.
Back at project GRAD in Holyoke, I also found Blanca Castro performing with her students. They were practicing readers theater in which the children read a script for an audience. Reader's Theater requires a reader to follow the script closely and read his or her parts of the script. An effective performance requires practice, so readers engage in repeated readings of the script. Fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension are all supported by Reader's Theater.
Reading By Children
At the Valley Opportunity Council in Chicopee, HSLI coach Maureen Wage has set up learning centers. One group of children gathered in the reading nook. They read books either alone or with each other. They selected the books themselves. The books are geared for the children's independent reading level so that they can read them easily without the help of an adult. HSLI's goal is to have children read a minimum of 4 to 6 books during the summer so that they can maintain or advance their reading achievement.
The children also write frequently in their journals. They write about their service learning project of growing marigolds to give to people who live in nearby senior housing. Many of them have written the words in bright colors. These texts that the children create themselves become sources for reading that they can read themselves or share with others.
Westfield Public Schools
In addition to the sites mentioned above, the public schools in Westfield are also implementing HSLI curricula. The hallways of their site at Highland Elementary School display eye-catching photographs and murals of children's work. Classrooms are filed with books, charts, and projects. Reading to, with, and by children is taking place. The learning environment Westfield is exciting and impressive. Just like summer, the school is bursting with life and color.
As the summer programs end and the summer winds down, I am grateful for having the opportunity to see HSLI programs in action. Remembering the bright colors, songs, performances, and readings will help sustain me, the children, and the staff members through the winter season.
Mooney, M. E. (1990). Reading To, With, and By Children. Katonah, NY: Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc.
Swanson, S. M. (1998). Letter to the Lake. New York: DK Publishing, Inc
Trumbauer, L. (2007). Life in a pond. Northborough, MA: Newbridge.