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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.

Libraries Build Community: One School’s Memorable Project

March 16, 2017

It is wonderful to see creativity rewarded, especially when they will likely have a lasting impact. One such project was done with young children enrolled in the Jewish Primary Day School.

It was called the NC South Campus Community Library Project and started at the beginning of the school year.

I asked Janet Collier — who serves as the school’s General Studies 2-5 Instruction Leader and as the librarian — to write about this yearlong project and its results.

Guest post by Janet Collier

It’s probably safe to say that we all know the value of libraries to ourselves and our communities. The closing of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Library in Washington, D.C. for a 3-year renovation is bringing us stories of just how vital they are to many of our fellow citizens. Well, the Kindergarten students at the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital know that, too.

“Community” is the overarching theme of the year in Kindergarten. Last year, as the students explored what it meant to be a part of a community first in their three classrooms and then as a part of the school community on their campus (which houses PK–1st grade), they noticed that while there were lots and lots of books, nobody knew how to find a book if they needed it. They decided to do something about it.

NC South Campus Community Library Project visiting libraries

Over the course of much of the year, they learned as much as they could about libraries and the people who use them. They worked in committees to talk to people in the school and out. They visited a variety of libraries, including neighborhood libraries, the school library on the school’s other campus (2nd–6th grade), and the Library of Congress (one of the best things they learned there was that libraries have book hospitals!). They learned interview skills from a local journalist and held three Town Hall Meetings so the committees could share their findings with their classmates.

Using a Design Thinking approach, and working by class and with adults who acted as consultants, they set about designing and then creating a library for their campus.

Throughout the project, the children consulted potential users to determine their needs, created drafts, got feedback, redrafted, and made prototypes until they felt their designs were ready to be implemented. (In this work, they were inspired by a video called Austin’s Butterfly).

Among the components they created were a comfy area for sitting and reading, an area with plush toys for sharing with reading buddies, an island for displaying books, a special bookcase for student-made books, a return book basket, and a book hospital! They decided on the how they wanted the books organized and developed a system of colored stickers for keeping the books organized.

Noticing that some books had special round stickers on the covers, the Kindergartners learned about awards like the Caldecott and the Newbery, and they created their own community award system. At the school’s Share the Nachas Day (Grandparents Day), which was also the 60th day of school, they asked their guests to add the name of their favorite children’s book to a list, which they hoped would reach 60 books. They got well over 60. These titles were subsequently added to the collection, and each one now has a “Community Favorites” seal, designed by the students, affixed to it.

NC South Campus Community Library Project

At the same time, the students engaged in an author study of Kevin Henkes and learned how to write book reviews. Throughout the project, reading, writing, math, and design skills were learned and practiced.

The children were exposed to a wide variety of materials for creating. They engaged in a wide range of critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills as well, and they called upon their creativity throughout. The icing on the cake is that the three Kindergarten teachers who guided this project won a prize for it from the Kohelet Foundation in the category of Development of Critical and/or Creative Thinking.

The Kohelet Prizes were established in 2016 for projects developed in Jewish Day Schools throughout the country in six different categories. The first year’s winners were announced in February, and The Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital won two of the six. The other prize was in the Real-World Learning category for the Election Project and Voter’s Guide written about in this blog in January. To look at these projects (and the other winners) in greater detail, visit the Kohelet website.

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"When I say to a parent, "read to a child", I don't want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate. " — Mem Fox