Young children’s curiosity can be very demanding. They constantly want to know more about some object they bring into school, about some item of news that has filtered through from the TV screen, what this is and what that is. And what is more, they want to know IMMEDIATELY.
Often a child brings in a flower, or a butterfly, picked up on the way to school. The teacher may or may not know what it is. But using a book, with the child, for identification is one way in which children can begin to learn how to use books for reference. A book will help them, with the teacher, to answer immediate needs and also further their interest.
Wild Flowers by Roger Philips, is produced for adults, but its clear photographic illustrations help both adult and child to make identification of a flower easier. The text is clearly too difficult for the under-7 child, but it gives essential information for the teacher to mediate.
When Barbara Woodhouse was showing us how to train dogs the Woodhouse way, many of our young children showed interest in the dogs, and in the nursery class some children engaged in spontaneous and imitative dog-training behaviour. This interest was taken up and developed. Good information books on dogs for the young child seemed unobtainable. Dogs by Wendy Boorer, produced for adults, gave lots of beautiful colour photos. The small amount of text gave the important points about difference of breeds and was useful for the teacher to interpret for the children.
When Mt St Helens erupted, the dramatic pictures on TV captured the imagination of many of our children. Quick to capitalize on such an interest, we searched our book stock and found an excellent H.M.S.O. publication, Volcanoes, with a wealth of exciting and stimulating photographs of volcanoes in action. After that we had to go outside for more information books to answer the innumerable questions and to develop children’s interest in an informed way. This was one of the many occasions when we made use of the public library and the school library service. This is a necessary and valuable source of information books to supplement the resources of a small school. Whilst constantly adding to our own stock, to answer specific needs, we cannot hope to provide the quantity needed, nor meet rather unusual demands such as that occasioned by the eruption of the volcano.
Adult information books are essential for staff, but these books are there to be handled by the children as well. They are not special resources hidden away. In finding information we put great importance on the interaction between adult and children. In using a book with children. questions are stimulated which might not otherwise occur, and the teacher is there to take children further in finding answers to those questions. In this kind of way the seeds of training are sown for the child to find out for himself. And we have found children coming back to look again and again at books which they have been introduced to in this way.
In the foyer of the school displays are mounted by staff, and these change regularly. The present display about birds contains, amongst other information books, The Book of British Birds produced by Drive publications. For adults, it has outstandingly good artist’s impressions, one bird to a page, with a highly informative text. Children may and frequently do look at the book as they pass by.
Other things displayed about the school, or kept permanently in corridors, are also accompanied by reference books. Musical instruments are available for children to experiment with, and beside them we put out Musical Instruments, by Dorothy Diamond and Robert Tiffin, a book which shows a variety of other instruments.
The rather vocal budgerigar who lives in the school foyer, has his own range of books. Budgerigar by Kazuyoski Takagi is written for young children. The text is simple and within the scope of the 7-year-old, giving essential information in a minimum amount of text.
When finding information books written for children rather than for adults, we need to bear in mind that the majority of children between the ages of 3 and 7, for whom we in our school provide, will not be able to read at all, or not well enough to manage texts on a wide variety of subjects without help. Those specifically produced for the 5-7 range tend to be very, often too, simplistic and need to be supplemented by others. Certainly we have found that there are not enough books for young children to satisfy our needs, so we also provide books written for children of Junior or Secondary age.
Machines are the centre of interest in one class at the moment. What Makes It Go? by Joe Kaufman is written for older children. but we find it useful and successful because it contains a large number of artist’s diagrams showing the internal workings of machines. These are simplified so that even young children can understand the general principles of an escalator, for example, whereas the details in an adult book might have been too advanced and confusing.
On the other hand we must take care not to water down information on a mistaken assumption about what children can take in. When the mother of a child in the nursery class was expecting a baby, the child needed some preparation. All the children in the nursery at that time were the youngest in the family and had no experience of a new baby coming. With their parents knowledge and support we decided to develop the children’s natural curiosity and interest in a variety of ways. As is our custom, even with the youngest children, information books were sought. but most of those produced on this subject for children were found to be either entirely unsuitable because of the poor quality and even crudity of the illustrations, or to fall far short of the detail and quality of photographs in The Everyday Miracle by Axel Ingelman-Sundherg and Claes Wirsen. The children responded keenly to the photographs, and staff found the text useful in helping them to answer the numerous and searching questions stimulated by the illustrations.
There is hardly an activity in school which is not in some way supported by information books. Trying to help a nursery child to an understanding of ’round’ or ‘circle’ is aided by pictures of car wheels etc.. as well as by concrete objects.
Brick play can be stimulated and enriched by reference to books about buildings or building sites. The Book of the HOUSE: a Way of Seeing, edited by Pinin Carpi, is written for older children, but to explore the pictures is to go on a delightful tour which reveals the immense variety in buildings. A pleasure at any age.
Sand and water may be found in many classrooms, but the development of scientific activities can be supported by a large number of very well written books and pamphlets for children. Favourites for me are still the Young Investigator Series, published some years ago and now sadly out of print. The text is simple: the drawings are clear. And the books make no concessions about language. The terms ‘porosity’. ‘solubility’. ‘buoyancy’, are there on the covers – and the material inside leads the young child, through experiment, to some understanding of these. Many will be able to read the text for themselves, but as in most instances, it is the interaction with an adult which helps them to a fuller understanding.
Children’s own artistic impressions, whether in paint, collage or junk modelling, are fine: but they can produce these only from what they have already absorbed or experienced. We can help them by drawing their attention to details, to colour, to shape – if not of the real thing, then through information books, and always discussing these things with them. The young child will not be tempted or even able to copy the illustrations. What he produces will still be his own impression, his individual interpretation, but enriched and informed by his greater knowledge and awareness. He will also be alerted to looking more closely at objects which surround him.
During the school year, our children go on as many visits as can be managed at the present time. In preparation and follow-up, information books play a vital part, helping children to know what to look for, and later helping them to check, or even to recall what they have seen. Recalling experience is not always easy for the young child without visual stimulus. One of our favourite places for a visit is Berkeley Castle, and one good starting point is Castles in the Starters Long Ago series produced by Macdonald Educational for the young child. We supplement it by a text for older children. The Castle Story by Sheila Sancha.
Whilst we are laying stress on the use of information books to support our teaching, to stimulate and satisfy children’s curiosity, we are also concerned to help children to an independent use of information books. This training is tied in with organisation and retrieval, as well as use of these books.
For a small school we have a lot of information books, and only the large, usually adult reference books are kept centrally in an open `library’ area in the foyer. The other books are in subject sections in corridors outside classrooms. All books are kept on open bookshelves, at a height suitable for young children to reach, and they are usually placed with the front cover outwards, so that information about the content of the book is immediately seen. Whenever something arises which calls for information, a child is sent off to find a suitable book.
He learns which area to go to for transport, for castles, for birds and so on. He will select and bring back the book of his choice. The teacher will then go through the book with him, or with the group, to check that it will give them the information they want. She will then suggest other books they might look at, and these will be retrieved by the children.
Constant reinforcement of this procedure lays the foundation for more advanced work in using information books which children will most certainly need as they grow older and move into other sectors of the educational system. But perhaps as importantly, or even more so, it equips them with a skill which they can use throughout life to further their own self-education and enjoyment.
I started the article with children’s curiosity and our need to respond to this. And one way is through the constant, imaginative and informed use of information books. Paradoxically in responding, we not only satisfy their curiosity, we stimulate it even more. This I consider an essential part of the education of the young child.
A rule-of-thumb guide to selecting information books for young children.
Look out for:
a) An adequate coverage of the subject – whether at adult or child level.
b) Quality of illustrations: photographs, preferably in colour for young children; artist’s drawings should be clear and detailed, bringing out salient features of an object or process, which might not be apparent in a photograph.
c) More illustration than text, in both adult and child books. Text provides difficulty for most young children; good illustrations can be very informative.
d) Text which is extremely informative but succinct.
e) Attractive and informative cover. This helps the child to select books for content, as well as selling the book to the child.
f) Hardback. These books are going to be handled a lot. They are expensive and not readily replaced. Hardbacks, laminated, will stand up to years of careful handling – and these books are essentially for children to handle.
A handful of information books which we have found useful
(A – adult; OC – older children; YC – younger children; P – photographs; AI – artist’s impressions)
Wild Flowers of Britain (A/P)
Roger Philips, Pan, 0 330 25183 X, £5.95
Herbert Edlin and Maurice Nimmo, Orbis, 0 85613 179 2, £6.95
Wendy Boorer, Sundial, O 904230 92 9, out of print but worth searching out in libraries.
The Book of British Birds (A/Al)
Drive Publications/Hodder and Stoughton, 0 340 25308 8, £8.95
Musical Instruments (A/Al and P)
Dorothy Diamond and Robert Tiffin, Macdonald Educational, 0 356 05077 7, £2.95 non-net
Making Musical Instruments (OC/P and All Bryan Tolley, Wayland, 0 85340 529 8, £2.75
Budgerigars (YC/Al and P)
Kazuyoski Takagi, ill. Smoko Arai, Wayland, 0 85340 782 7, £2.95
See Inside an Abbey (OC/Al)
R. J. Unstead, Hutchinson, 0 09 128680 8, £1.95
Young Investigator Series (YC/AI and P)
Solubility; Shadows; Rust; Porosity; Buoyancy; Wind. Schofield and Sims, now out of print.
[But see Flight and Floating, Usborne Pocket Scientist Series, 0 86020 529 0, £1.25 and Science Workshop (based on the BBC TV series shown last autumn), Longman, 0 582 18348 0. £1.95, which contain similar material and follow the enquiry approach recommended by Sheila Parker in Books for Keeps 9. Ed.]
What Makes It Go? (OC/Al)
Joe Kaufman, Hamlyn, 0 600 39265 1, out of print but worth searching out in libraries.
The Know How Book of Batteries and Magnets (OC/Al)
Heather Amery and Angela Littler, Usborne, 0 86020 008 6, £1.85p pb
The Everyday Miracle (A/P)
Axel Ingleman Sundberg and Claes Wirsen, photos by Lennart Nilsson, Allen Lane, out of print.
[A junior version, How You Began, is published by Kestrel, 0 7226 5116 3, £4.50, in April.]
The Book of the House: A Way of Seeing (OC/P)
ed. Pinin Carpi, Ernest Benn, 0 510 00034 7, £6.95
Starters Long Ago Books, Macdonald Educational, 0 356 04084 4, 75p
The Castle Story (A/P and Al)
Sheila Sancha, Kestrel, 0 7226 5595 9, £6.95
The Garden Spider (OC/P and AI)
Jan Ethelberg, A. & C. Black, 0 7136 1635 0, £2.95
Volcanoes (A/P and Al) H.M.S.O., 0 11 880621 1, 55p
Anne Griffiths is Head of Gay Elms Infant School in Bristol, and previously taught in nursery, infant, junior and special classes in Bristol. She was a film maker and photographer for the Schools Council Pre- School Project, and more recently took the photographs which illustrate the Terraced House Books – Sets C and D (Methuen), winner of the Other Award 1980.