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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Why getting out matters

February 17, 2012

I remember many years ago sharing a book with photographs by Bruce MacMillan with a group of inner-city preschool children. They were bright and vivacious and eager to share what they knew.

While I no longer remember the title of the book, I'll never forget a little boy's response when I asked what the full-color image of a black and white cow was. He exclaimed with authority, "A dog!"

It made sense: both dog and cow have four legs, a tail, and other physical qualities in common, both could be found outdoors, both could be black and white; and without a scale to measure it by, they both might appear in a picture to be similar in size.

The child knew what he had experienced personally: he had come across dogs but never a cow. And he had never gone far beyond his own neighborhood.

A recent article in The New York Times reminded me of this preschool and the power of learning through experience. Teachers at a Brooklyn school are taking their young students to lots of places in the community such as an auto repair shop.

Before and after the outing, they read books. One child read Honda, the Boy Who Dreamed of Cars by Mark Weston (Lee & Low) but younger children interested in basic car parts might enjoy Byron Barton's My Car (Greenwillow). A ride on the subway may allow children to compare their NYC subway to another shown in Mary Quattlebaum's Underground Train (Yearling, o.p.). The possibility to read related books to enhance and extend these experiences is virtually unlimited.

Books can also be companions and guides for outings. What will we see along the way? How long will it take us to get there? If we have to take the subway, how many tokens (or farecards or whatever) will we need for a roundtrip? Why was this bridge given this name?

And who knows what other activities may arise out of reading? Map-making? Art? Math? Social studies? Maybe even another trip to the school or local public library.

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"Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them." — Neil Gaiman