Thursday, October 8, 2015

Hold This! - Q&A with Carolyn Scoppettone

Last Friday while we were reviewing early chapter books (more on those tomorrow), Kellogg-Hubbard Library was hosting a launch event for the publication of Hold This! a debut picture book by Montpelier author Carolyn Scoppettone. Hold This! recounts a walk through the woods with a daughter discovering many treasures - or "treasures" - to share with her father.

Earlier this month, Islandport Press published a short written Q&A with Carolyn about the origin of the book, linked here. Now, she has nicely taken the time to do another round for our educators blog. 

This is a playful book describing exploring the outdoors, how did you approach finding the right text to prompt the feeling of "playfulness", which we usually think of as an impromptu emotion?

The inspiration for “Hold This!” came directly from my own children. When they were little, we walked in Hubbard Park frequently. I loved their irrepressible desire to explore the outdoors through their senses. They wanted to look at nature, of course, but they also wanted to hear it, smell it and touch it. So, I knew that I would need sensory language to capture the story I wanted to tell. From the earliest drafts, fun, sensory words like “splash gurgling” and “swissshing” appeared.
In addition to those Hubbard Park walks with my own children, I had plenty of experience exploring nature with other young kids. As a volunteer educator for the Four Winds program at Union Elementary School, I led outdoor nature lessons for many years. It struck me that the children were most deeply engaged when they were having fun. The experience of playing opened the door to forming a connection with the natural world. I wanted my main character to find joy in the woods. That joy bubbled up into playful language.
We've had authors in our educators series before speak about the sense of play and wonder as an important part of engaging kids in learning - looking a little beyond the text on the page, do you have thoughts for inspiring the feeling of play in planned activities, like you would find in a school setting?
At the end of “Hold This!,” Mika builds a fairy house. For young children, building small structures like these engages the imagination as well as the senses. Handling bark, leaves, stones, and other natural materials gives a child a chance to notice shape, texture, and fragrance, among other things.
While you might not build a fairy house in a classroom, natural materials can come into school to be used in crafts and art activities. I especially like art activities that highlight the complexity and beauty found in nature. Leaf rubbings, natural collages, shoe box dioramas, and many other activities allow children to create something beautiful out of things they find in nature.
There are also many crafts that highlight certain properties of natural objects. For example, when studying snowflakes in Four Winds, we would have the children cut out paper snowflakes. This is a simple but beautiful craft that reinforces the concept that the shape of each snowflake is unique.
 Puppet shows and felt board activities are always great, as well. In the Four Winds program, we would start each lesson with a puppet show that introduced the learning objectives. For a unit on camouflage, for example, the puppet characters blended in with the background. When I do an author visit with a preschool audience, I bring along a felt board version of “Hold This!” Children love helping me find the various natural treasures that Mika asks her father to hold. There are a wide variety of games, as well. Memory games, for example, work particularly well with a nature theme.
- Do you have any examples of school-based play and learning from your own time as a student? 
I grew up in San Diego where it was easy to be outside all year. My mother was a preschool teacher who loved nature.  So, from an early age I was encouraged to approach any excursion into the outdoors as a chance to truly observe the natural world. I don’t recall specific school-based play and learning from that time, but I’ll never forget how Mom would plop down on the ground to show me tiny flowers, “belly flowers” she called them, or how she would point out a swallow’s nest tucked in the eaves or a sparrow’s distinctive song.
When I was a kid, I loved scavenger hunts. There was an undeveloped canyon right near my house and I spent every afternoon playing imaginative games or combing the canyon for treasures. The shark’s teeth I found told me that the desert landscape I was exploring used to be an ocean. The horned toads, rocks and chaparral spoke to the changes the landscape had undergone over eons.
Despite the difficulty of getting children outside during the school day, I think it is crucial to do so on a regular basis. Just the experience of being outside is valuable. Any game that is played in nature allows a child to form a connection to the natural world. In a time when so much of our learning is indoors or on the computer, getting outside is even more important.
Interested in reading more about the theme of discovery, nature, and learning? Check out this earlier set of articles about author / illustrators Dierdre Gill and Jason Chin "Picture Books that Explore Nature"

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