Recently, at a bookstore signing event, I met an energetic and passionate Montessori teacher who shared with me her creative, hands-on Geography tool that also happens to be a perfect companion to my book Light Up the Night. Please welcome Pauline Meert and her fabulous Universe Nesting Boxes!
I am a Montessori teacher to 20 amazing 3-6 year olds.
In my years of teaching I noticed how hard it can often be for children to understand the differences in the terms – city, state, country, continent and how often they are mixed up.
Within the Montessori materials we have many wonderful lessons we use to teach children these concepts. We use a globe to differentiate the continents. We have maps of each continent with every country of the world, and objects from all over the world. Yet even with these amazing materials, I still found children struggling.
After some time on Pinterest and racking my brain for a hands-on and concrete way to teach this concept, I created nesting boxes that began with the solar system, then to our planet, then the child’s continent, country, state, and city. In the final box I placed a mirror to show who lives in that city. The activity quickly became a hit in the classroom and it helped me teach the correct terminology more easily and concretely.
When I came upon Jean Reidy’s book Light Up the Night, I was blown away! Not only did it follow almost identically the nesting boxes I had made, but it clearly, beautifully, and concretely reinforced the concept of our “own little piece of the universe.” Light Up the Night is now a staple in our classroom and is often read aloud, looked at, and read by the older children. I was very excited to also find so many resources on Jean Reidy’s website to help take our learning even further!
Pauline was born in France and moved to the US with her family in 1999. She always had a great love for working with children. When she was sixteen a priest friend mentioned the word Montessori and the rest is history! She received her international Montessori diploma from Montessori Centre International in 2008. She later came across the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and was deeply moved by the beauty of it all. She also completed her Master’s degree in Montessori education from St. Catherine University in 2014. Pauline has a deep passion for Montessori education and loves to share it with others. When she is not in the classroom or chatting Montessori, she enjoys swing dancing, sewing, reading, and spending her time with friends and family. You can find out more about her work at http://www.inspiremontessori.com/.
MRI: You’ve also written a book called ALL THROUGH MY TOWN that features animals as the main characters. Do you think these two books could take place in the same storytelling universe? Could the kids from All Through My Town come and play at the new playground built in Busy Builders, Busy Week?
And I answered –
JR: Oh my goodness! What a brilliant idea! I love unexpected connections, surprises and meta moments in storytelling. So let’s play that out. ALL THROUGH MY TOWN is loosely modeled after the Chicago suburb in which I grew up—a self-contained town with its own shops, library, gardens, fire department and only thirty miles from Chicago. The Chicago and Northwestern train line—now called the Metra—whistled through multiple times each day, taking commuters to and from the Windy City. BUSY BUILDERS, BUSY WEEK! takes place in an urban area where the characters transform an old empty lot. So yes, let’s have our town characters hop on their train and visit their city friends—all meeting up at that brand new playground. Bloomsbury, how ‘bout it? Readers, toss me a title! Let’s do this!
Heck yes, this IS a brilliant story idea. But it would be much more fun coming from a classroom of young writers, wouldn’t it? So for all you teachers out there, consider this. Can your students write stories – and if they’re illustrated even better – somehow combining or inspired by the characters or setting from ALL THROUGH MY TOWN with the characters or setting of BUSY BUILDERS, BUSY WEEK? Then how about a Skype date so that your students can read their stories to me? I promise to offer them my “What I love most!” critiques!
Whether it’s through quiet, cuddle time, conversation or comic relief, engaging the picture book crowd is a delightful task. I like to tell young readers that when we read a picture book, we don’t just decipher the words. We talk about it. We explore it. We discover it. We relate to it. We might move to it. We might even make a little noise. Because picture books aren’t just about words on a page. They’re about sounds and rhythms and poetry and language and voice and life and … pictures!
I love to stress, with kids, the importance of reading the pictures. After all, the illustrations in a picture book tell over half of the story. It’s a skill that very young children can master and feel proud of. It’s also art appreciation 101. When you ask a group of young kids, “How many of you are artists?” almost every hand goes up. So when they see picture book illustration as art, they’re introduced to the stories – including their own – that art can tell. I explore with kids the details of an illustration that might tell us more about the central story or a side story or, perhaps, even a different story, than the text reveals.
I rarely read a picture book straight through. I ask a lot of questions. I ask kids to predict what comes after a page turn. I ask them to look for clues as to how the story might end. And, most importantly, I ask them questions that might help them connect a book, in a personal way, to what they know, what they’ve experienced and the world they live in.
Young readers can feel empowered when they contribute to the conversation about a book. By showing them that I value their discoveries, they not only learn that reading a picture book is rewarding, but that they are valued as well.