Creating Curriculum Using Children's Picture Books
Or, in home school language: a literature-based unit study. This one uses some of my very favorite children's picture books (see list below). For each of the 18 books, there's a story summary and a "before the story", "during the story" and "after the story" suggestion. A helpful shaded box points out themes, skills, vocabulary, and related books. This is followed by "connections" to curriculum areas including: language arts, math, science, problem-solving and social skills, fine motor, gross motor, visual discrimination, art, and creative dramatics. Reproducible activity pages are provided for some of these. This is great for preschool, as you can center one or several days around these books, themes and activities even an entire week if you integrate the related literature selections. As an example, for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, emphasized themes are: being a good host, patience, real and fantasy. Skills focused on are making predictions, alphabet, counting, biology, and manners. Special vocabulary is carried away, comfortable, finished, mustache, remind. Related books include If You Take a Mouse to School and If You Give a Moose a Muffin. Before reading the book, you ask your child to predict what might happen if they gave a mouse a cookie and relate that to what they do when they get a cookie. During the story, you take advantage of the many "cliffhangers" in the book, allowing children to guess at the sentence endings before turning the page. After the story, the author suggests additional readings (this is because children have such fun with the outlandish turns of events most stories have other activities in this section). There are two Language Arts Connections; one is playing with magnetic letters on a cookie sheet (related to the drawn red letters and cookies on the book cover); the other is to make alphabet cookies (sounds yummy!). For a math activity, there's a reproducible page for children to match the chocolate chip cookies with the same number of chips. Science Connections have you researching what mice really eat. If you have access to a mouse, the book suggests experimenting with various foods. If not, you'll have to settle for using another book, using the internet, or visiting a pet store. In Problem-Solving and Social Skills Connections, children practice being good hosts or hostesses. You can play the mouse and let your child entertain you (tea party, anyone)? Then, as the mouse does in the story, children practice fine motor skills by drawing pictures of a scene from the book or of their family as the mouse does. Children practice writing their names (using tracing paper), tape it to the artwork, and then to the refrigerator, just like mouse. For Gross Motor Connections, you again mimic the mouse, this time in sweeping and cleaning (remember, the mouse got carried away and swept the entire house!). The book suggests supplementing with a little house-sweeping music of your choice. In Art Connections, children construct Barbershop Portraits as you reread the book, paying special attention to the part where mouse trims his hair. Children paste long strands of yarn to self-portraits for hair (deliberately making the hair in need of a trim). After the glue dries, children use safety scissors to "cut" their hair to a desired length. In Creative Dramatics Connections children practice proper mealtime manners. After rereading the section of the book where mouse asks for a straw and a napkin with his cookie snack, you provide yourself and your child(ren) with paper plates, empty cups and straws, and napkins. Then you pretend to be a group of mice, eating cookies and drinking milk, demonstrating how to eat a cookie over your plate, use your napkin and drink properly with a straw. If children do well, follow through with real cookies and milk then show children how to clean up after the meal. A final reproducible page has children color the pictures that show how someone in the family takes care of them (also great as a discussion starter).
What is a "unit study"? Briefly, it's a thematic or topical approach to teaching as opposed to the traditional by-subject approach. Rather than teach each subject separately, a unit study attempts to integrate many or all subject areas into a unified study - usually centered around a particular subject or event. Obviously History (the study of events) and Science (the study of "things") are well-suited to unit studies, and usually form the "core" around which other subjects are integrated. Subjects like Bible, Geography, Government, English (writing), and Reading/Literature, Music, Home Economics, Life Skills, and Art, are usually easy to integrate around a core topics. Remaining subjects (Math, Phonics, Grammar, Spelling) can be integrated to some extent via related activities. Each, however, has its own "system" (progression of skills, mastery of "rules") which must be followed to some degree. Since one of the additional advantages of a unit study curriculum is the ability to use it with students of varying ages and skill levels, these subjects are generally taught apart from the core curriculum. This may be as simple as assigning pages in a grammar or spelling book, or using a separate "program" for Phonics and Math. Unit studies also tend to be more activity-oriented than the traditional approach, a real boon to kinesthetic learners. Advocates of the unit study approach site studies showing that children learn best when learning is unified rather than fragmented and when learning is more participatory than passive.