Every Children’s House Environment (what we call the classrooms for children ages 3 – 6) will inevitably include a reading corner. This cozy spot should feature a comfortable chair for the young child to settle into, adequate lighting, and a limited supply of quality picture books that will be rotated often. So long as nobody else is currently occupying the space, a child may choose to sit and peruse the books in the reading corner whenever he likes.
From his first days in the Children’s House community, the young child will find this to be a comforting and welcoming spot. When he is feeling a little overwhelmed in his new surroundings, the child will often retreat to the reading corner. It offers something familiar to him. He is able to ponder the pictures in relative silence and solitude, sitting only slightly apart from the buzz of the busy classroom, but still a part of the overall community.
Early on in his experience in the classroom we will show him how to carefully handle a book, how to remove it from the shelf, how to gently turn the pages, and how to replace the book to its spot on the shelf when he is done. We reinforce this as we model careful treatment of every book that is in our hands throughout the day.
We must think carefully about how we will display the books in the reading corner. A traditional bookshelf that is full of books with only the spines pointing outward to the child is not enticing or inviting. Small printed titles on the narrow spines of a book mean nothing to the young child who is not yet reading. Too often this only prompts him to pull the books off the shelf to see what is on the cover in an attempt to find one that interests him, and results in a growing pile of books on the floor. A much better option would feature a limited number of books that face forward, so that the child has a clear view of the books available. In our training center, plate display racks serve this purpose nicely. Other options might include narrow ledge shelves mounted to the wall, specially designed book racks available from educational supply vendors, or even spice racks.
When selecting the books to include in the reading corner, we choose books that feature quality illustrations and story lines. We seek out books that are grounded in reality. The child under the age of 6 is deeply attracted to reality, as it is at this age that he constructs his understanding of the world around him. It turns out that fantasy – ideas that have no basis in reality (fairies, talking trains, Pokeman, etc.) – do not serve the child in constructing this understanding.
We must remember that through all of his interactions and experiences, the young child absorbs impressions into his mind without a filter. Children take it all in, and accept it as truth. They often do not yet have the maturity of discrimination to tell the difference between that which is real and that which is not. For the child under 6 we want to provide them with a deep and solid foundation of knowledge upon which they will build their understanding of the world and everything that is a part of it.
Once that clear understanding has been constructed in early childhood, they will enter the next phase of development at the age of 6 ready to leap into imaginative, fantastical fiction and other forms of creative writing. The power of their imagination will take flight. They will be well prepared to explore the mythologies, the folk tales and the science fiction that so interests the elementary aged child.
“…and every child should be able to experiment at first hand, to observe, and to put himself in contact with reality. Thus the flights of the imagination will start from a higher plane…”
~ Maria Montessori