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Readers Reflect: Snowy Day from Peter DeWitt

November 20, 2011

“Readers Reflect,” is a post by a guest blogger reflecting on a formative book, character, or reading experience that has been particularly meaningful in their life as a reader. To submit your own “Readers Reflect” essay, please contact us at courtskids@gmail.com.

Today we are honored t0 welcome Peter DeWitt, Elementary school principal who writes about students’ social and emotional health, for Education Week, you can check out this great blog here

As adults we often look at the world around us with different eyes than we used to when we were children. When we were children we had the opportunity to spend hours playing in the woods with friends. During the winter we would sled down big snowy hills and follow it up with a cozy blanket and a hot cup of cocoa. Many of us had childhoods that seemed magical, especially when we reflect upon it on days when we wish we could go back to that time.

Fortunately for me, I get to spend every day looking at the world through the eyes of children because I am an elementary school principal. Walking into the cafeteria during kindergarten lunch I have 60 kindergartners who wildly wave to me with one hand while they eat with the other.

Before becoming a principal I taught primary elementary school for eleven years. Seven of those years were inclusionary education, which brought together children with diverse learning styles. I loved being in the classroom. Each day was an adventure where it was our class against the world. The best part of my day was in the morning when I read to the class.

Like many first grade teachers I did calendar time with my students in the morning. We would sit on a big rug in the front of the classroom with our bulletin board hanging next to us. We would go through the day of the week and the month of the year. We discussed what the weather would be and what our schedule of the day would bring us. And just like any elementary classroom, I would hear about a student’s new puppy or where they went for dinner the night before. As much as it may not have had anything to do with my lesson, it had to do with their lives and they wanted to tell the story.

At the end of calendar time, and the many conversations, I would read a picture book. I love picture books! Children’s authors have a magical way to string together a few words to tell a story. For me, the best part was staring at the full page illustrations. A great picture book can draw us in and take us away.

As a class, we would take a picture walk together through each colorful illustration and we tried to figure out the plot of the book before we ever read a page. Sometimes their guesses were better than the books we read and other times they were completely on target with the plot the author was writing about.

Although it was probably a much shorter amount of time, I felt like I spent hours in the library picking out the best books for my class. One day I came upon a book called Snow Day by Moira Fain. I opened the book to the first page and saw the most amazing illustrations. I loved reading about Maggie, a little girl attending a private school in the 1960’s. Maggie had a flair for getting into trouble and one day forgot to complete her homework. She opted for a pillow fight with her five siblings instead!

Fortunately for Maggie, her town was blanketed with snow overnight and she ended up with a snow day. Instead of completing her homework during the day, Maggie went sledding on school hill with her friends and siblings. She figured she would finish it later that day, and would never run into her teacher. Unfortunately, Maggie ran into Sister Agatha Ann, her elementary school teacher. Her teacher was on school hill enjoying the snow with her colleagues.

As I turned to read the next page, I was met with a poem that I would remember for, what has been, ten years.

When I was young, the snow was deeper

And all the hills seemed so much steeper

The crusty ice I walked upon would never once give in

And every sled race that I ran would surely be a win

It’s good to see the snow again from a child’s point of view

Because what you see is different, when you’re a bigger you.

The truth is, I was fortunate to have a good childhood where I had sled races like the ones that Moira Fain describes in Snow Day. I played hide-and-seek with friends for hours before our parents called for us to come home. Summers were spent in the above ground pool in our backyard or playing baseball in our makeshift field down the road from our house.

As much as I love reading books now, that was not always my reality. I was a struggling learner and many factors interfered with my academic achievement. School was not a place I flourished; it was a place that I felt like a failure. Reading a book only acted as a reminder that I was not as smart as my classmates.

My friends would order books from our book clubs, so I did the same thing. However, they read them and I did not. I was motivated by the cover but struggled with the words inside. I was retained in fourth grade and struggled throughout my educational career. My dad passed away when I was in fifth grade but my mother did a great job raising five children.

After graduating fourth from last in my class from high school, my options were not plentiful but I opted to try out college because all of my friends were going. On my third attempt at a community college I found my strengths. I also ended up getting a job working at an after-school program. It was there that I knew I wanted to work with children.

Reading is powerful. Great books can transport us to another world or take us back to the ones we once knew. For children who cannot read well, books may be a source of pain, but with a good teacher, books can act as an escape for children. Great teachers can inspire even the most struggling learner to pick up a book and read it.

Not all adults are as fortunate as I am. They do not get the opportunity to work in a place where hugs and smiles are plentiful and crayons and picture books are just around the corner. However, if you’re willing, you can still buy books that transport you from your stressful lives and take you back to a time when the highlight of your day is sledding down a big snowy hill next to your school.

Fain, Moira. (1998). Snow Day. Walker Books for Children. New York, N.Y. 

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