Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Faraway Places

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at Women In Need, an organization that houses women and children (and fathers!) throughout the city. I have been working with them for a few months, bringing Nurturing Narratives to the children in their shelters.

I set out to Brooklyn with a friend and fellow associate committee member in tow. With us we brought How I Learned Geography and Where The Wild Things Are. I decided I wanted to do a lesson on faraway places and get the children, quite literally, outside themselves.

They were a rambunctious batch but as soon as we started reading they were completely captivated. Their eyes were glued to the pages and they were transported to that magical place I call Reader's Anywhere.

See the thing about books is that they are vehicles. We use this world a lot but I have only recently started to really understand what it means. They have the literal power of transportation, to move us from one place to another. To elevate us.

After we were done reading I asked the children to choose a faraway place they'd like to tell a story about. I explained that the little boy in the book used his imagination and traveled to the farthest reaches of the earth simply through his thoughts and that we, too, with the help of some colored pencils, could do the same. Some children chose the beach, others places like Jamaica and Mexico. One little boy, however, chose Coney Island. I applauded his efforts but when I asked him why he chose Coney Island he said, "because you said to pick a faraway place and it is very, very far away."

I was so touched by his words I had to briefly look away. Now I'm not saying every child has to envision an African Safari or a Moroccan desert tour, quite the contrary. Every child has their own, unique imagination which is what makes each of them so special and spectacular. But this is just my point. I saw in that little boy not joy in the prospect of Coney Island but complete lack of an alternative... he simply did not know any other place existed or that it was within his right to call upon one.

I asked him a series of question about why he liked Coney Island and with each one I could see him getting a bit more excited. Something very interesting was happening. He was applying the excitement he felt in reading the books and thinking of faraway places to a place he had been. He was feeling ownership over this exercise and as he began to remember the place, I saw that he was traveling there, too.

When we expose children to books we not only enhance their literacy skills but we also cultivate their own abilities to dream beyond themselves. I was amazed during that class that two picture books had the power to transport these children outside their circumstances and into another reality, a different way to live. By the end of the session the little boy had stuck with Coney Island but boy, was it an imagined version. Full of bright, neon colors, ice cream machines and blue beaches it looked like a paradise to me, too. He didn't write about Egypt but he dreamed up Coney Island with passion, and joy.

Read and Dream,


1 comment:

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