ABCs on the Beach

July 19, 2012 § 2 Comments

We just returned from a week at the beach. I’ve decided that the beach is the Perfect Montessori Classroom. In fact, if someday the public school system fails me, I may just throw my kids on a beach all year long and be done with it. What can’t you learn while playing on an ever-changing natural landscape with a bountiful array of tactile materials and a giant open space in which to explore them? (After all, doesn’t Montessori teach kids with sandpaper letters?) Our particular beach, beautiful in its rawness, is on the Ontario side of Lake Erie; it’s a piece of property that has been in my family for generations. It’s also just about the “dirtiest” beach you’ll ever find—full of sticks, stones, seaweed, and (yes) even the occasional dead fish carcass—which makes it disappointing for sunbathing teenagers but paradise for intrepid little explorers. This past week, JP spent every morning and afternoon on the beach, digging and dumping and filling and building (all the time engaged in an excited and not always coherent dialogue with himself.) This year, he was especially interested in the plentiful rocks, largely because my grandmother kept asking him to bring her the “most interesting ones” for an edging wall she was building back at the house. JP needs very little encouragement to pick up rocks (see my earlier post on collecting), but this assignment gave me a chance to encourage him to consider and refine a bit before plopping a stone into his bucket. I was reminded of a book that was published last year, titled If Rocks Could Sing: a Discovered Alphabet, by Leslie McGuirk (Ages 4-99). After 10 years of rock-searching on her beach in Florida, the author ended up with all 26 letters of the alphabet—that is, she found a rock shaped like each one. The end result: a totally unique alphabet book with a different page for each of the photographed rock-letters; as a bonus, there’s also a rock-object or rock-face that corresponds with each letter (that’s right, she actually found a rock that looks like an elephant’s head for “e,” and a mere 14 heart-shaped rocks for the “v is for valentines” page). I’m always looking for books that visually represent letters out of their typical print format (you know your kid really grasps what a M looks like when she can spot it in the arches of the Brooklyn Bridge; see Stephen T. Johnson’s  Alphabet City). But in addition to getting kids to see letters in different ways, If Rocks Could Sing presents a beautiful opportunity to open up little eyes to the great imperfections of nature. Think of it as a stop-and-smell-the-roses alert—but for rocks. With careful inspection and avid imagination, there’s no end to what rocks can inspire in kids. Last week, JP discovered a fossilized rock with etchings of what appeared to be some kind of plant or algae (“Mommy, I’m now a fossil collector! This rock has probably been here for hundreds of days!”). Truly, the beach does seem to make its own time, and I especially enjoy McGuirk’s afterward, which discusses her painstaking process of trying to find the letter K, the last piece to complete her alphabet puzzle; what a clever way to talk to your kids about patience! Like I said, the classroom starts here.

“b is for bird, c is for couch potato”

Other Favorites About Rocks:
Everybody Needs a Rock, by Byrd Baylor & Peter Parnall (Ages 4-8)
If You Find a Rock, by Peggy Christian & Barbara Hirsch Lember (Ages 4-8)

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