In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published every Friday. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.
“The aim is not an external one, that is to say, it is not the objects that the child should learn how to place the cylinders, and that he should know how to perform an exercise. The aim is an inner one, namely, that the child train himself to observe; that he be led to make comparisons between objects, to form judgements, to reason and decide…”
– Maria Montessori, Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, page 71
Although many of the materials in this area of the classroom are based on the decimal system (pink tower, brown stair, knobbed cyclinders, etc.) and fit together in a very specific way – it is the hope that a young child will begin to notice when things “look out of place.” You want them to walk past that pink tower and notice when one of the other children didn’t put it back quite right. You want them to begin to develop their observation skills – to realize there is a world outside of themselves. Therefore, the books I have found ask children to notice something; to be active observers.
Ages 2.5 and up
Swineburne, Stephen. Lots and Lots of Zebra Stripes. Boyds Mill Press: Homesdale, PA, 1998.
Swineburne’s photographs showcase various brightly-colored animals and plants that exist in nature. The accompanying words (both Spanish and English) point out the concept of patterns and seasons, but the true gem of this book is in the details. Close-up photos of snakes, cut tree trunks and a sandy beach provide the opportunity to discuss patterns in everyday life. Younger children will enjoy identifying the objects in the pictures, but older kids may enjoy relating other incidences of patterns that they see outside.
Ages 4 and up
Hoban, Tana. Look! Look! Look! Greenwillow Books: New York, 1988.
The first page of each section provides the reader with a small square cut-out of the photograph that is featured on the following page. Excited youngsters will be eager to try and guess what the picture is – a surprise on every two pages. Photographs include: a border collie, a ferris wheel, a ball of red yarn, the back of an elephant, a pink rose, the leg of a Galapagos tortoise, a guitar, a lamb, and a pumpkin. Kids will enjoy looking over the book a few more times and “guessing” correctly. Use this book during a discussion about a whole item and its parts – or in an art lesson with a focus on detail.
Ages 4 and up
Micklethwait, Lucy. I Spy A Lion: Animals in Art. Greenwillow Books: New York, 1994.
Micklethwait’s first “art” book was I Spy: An Alphabet in Art, a book where she asks children to look at famous art masterpieces and find objects that begin with “A, B, etc.” This book also features class art and children are asked to find certain animals in each layout. The animals are sometimes easy to spot and sometimes require a keen eye and a new way of looking at things. Similar to the I-Spy series of books by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick.
Ages 3.5 and up
Hale, Christy. Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building. Lee & Low Books, Inc.: New York, 2012.
This fabulous book challenges children (and adults) to take a close look at the buildings and structures around them. In each two-page spread, Hale includes a picture of a famous architectural site and and displays a way that children can recreate it with everyday materials. For example, stacking cups can resemble the Petronas Twin Towers, while drip sand castles can recreate the La Sagrada Familia basilica in Spain. For the non-architects among us (and those older children interested in the reality of the buildings), Hale has included a detailed description of each building and its location, architect and date of creation. A fabulous book that makes the connection between art, free-building and purposeful design. Highly Recommended.
Ages 4 and up
LeSieg, Theo. Wacky Wednesday. Illustrated by George Booth. Random House, Inc.:New York, 1974.
Although this book has a lot of fantastical elements to it (there is a shoe on the wall, after all), the main backdrop to this story is the boy’s home and school. In typical Dr. Seuss fashion, this book rhymes and asks the reader to find an increasing array of out of place objects. Children will giggle as they see an extra large candy cane acting as a chair leg or find it incredibly odd that there is a turtle stuck up a tree. Since the book is not overly large, prepare to use this book in small group settings or snuggled up next to a child.
Wacky Wednesday is just one book in a large area of children’s publishing that asks you to find what’s out of place. Other interesting books include the Spot the Differences in Art series by Dover. These books are meant to be pored over within small groups, but accomplish the same task – asking the reader to look deeper.
To read more about reality-based books for the Sensorial section of a Montessori classroom, continue to the post about auditory learning.