Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bringing Home the Beach

Soren and I live a mile from one of Florida's finest state parks on the Gulf of Mexico. We have a pristine beach pretty much all to ourselves. There are few things that he loves more than trips to the beach with his grandmother from New York. She has much more energy than I do, so while she's away, we read books about the beach to bring a little of nature's magic home.

When Soren and I read books on a theme, I try to find a range of different kinds of books, each of which serve a particular purpose in that week's learning journey.

While Soren greatly enjoys long stories, I find that "baby" books like Usborne's Look and Say Beach board book provide us with a low-pressure opportunity for Soren to do the reading. No, he doesn't read the words, but he generates all the talking and I encourage him to make up a story. This book shows happy clay children and their beach fun with nothing but picture dictionary style key words.

Then I choose some books that employ elegant poetry that flows seamlessly. We read it all the way through, I don't leave an opening to stop and chat. If we want to do that, we can go back and just look at the pictures and talk about it. It stretches his attention span. It encourages him to sit still and just listen. It imparts a sense of respect for poetry and prose.

Hello Ocean by Pam Munoz Ryan is an absolutely beautiful book. A girl and her family visit her old friend, the ocean. Love of nature, the sand, the salty sea, the bright sky is a romance that even my two-year-old can start to understand.

Bubbly waves
that kiss the sand
wide open water
before my eyes,
reflected in a
bowl of skies... 

I try to include a silly story, a fun rhyme that will make Soren laugh. To the Beach by Thomas Docherty is an imaginary journey by a boy on a farm, through his window on a rainy day, traveling by airplane and sailboat, helicopter and camel to the beach and back. He's bound only by the limits of his imagination.

I look for a story that parallels Soren's own experience with what we're reading about. With a subject like the beach, that's pretty easy to accomplish. I recommend Sea, Sand, Me! by Patricia Hubbell. Take an adorable trip to the beach with a little girl and her friend, play in the sand, build a castle, put seaweed in your hair and sip some lemonade with them.

Stories like Sea, Sand, Me! and At the Beach by Anne and Harlow Rockwell give Soren a chance to basically tell me the story. I stop and let him fill in nouns and verbs. He's building an early kind of reading comprehension, and is often able to help me read a story the very first time we open the book.

Finally, I try to find a book that will stretch his mind with an element of critical thinking, wild imagination, basic science, or a story with a moral. Nothing too complicated, but something that will challenge him.

All You Need for a Beach by Alice Schertle is just such a book, building the essence of the beach one element at a time, starting with a single grain of sand.

And (of course) no book theme is complete without a visit from our favorite mischievous primate. Curious George is Soren's soulmate. This particular story is delightful as George encourages his shy friend Betsy to overcome her fear of the water and play with him at the beach.

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