Building literacy through storytelling and the arts

Reading with friends is a good way to pass the time.

Sometimes, parents worry that that their child is behind in reading or writing. At Grassroots, we don’t push children to read, but rather offer ways for them to come to reading and writing naturally. Our little library is packed full of books from floor to ceiling and there are lots of cozy nooks to curl up in with a favorite book. It is not unusual to walk into the library and find an older student reading to a younger child. Visiting parents may start reading a book to their child and then find themselves surrounded by kids who want to listen.

“It is good books, not good reading methods, that make good readers,” John Holt once said, and we find that motivation really is the key. Kids will read when they find it has value to them, whether that is simply the pleasure of escaping into a different world or, yes, even to read a tutorial in order to level up in a video game. We don’t question why a child wants to read. Instead, we offer them opportunities to practice and a helping hand if they want it.

Our library has a section of student-made books. There are several in the Lyric series. Watch out, J.K. Rowling!

“I just knew there were stories I wanted to tell.” – Octavia E. Butler

Many of our students become confident readers when they decide they have a story to tell and need the reading and writing skills to do so, and Grassroots students have many outlets to choose from. After four decades, book making is still one of our students’ favorite activities. Students can also work on the student newspaper or work on stories and poems in our creative writing classes. Even with these formal options, many of our students choose to work on projects that emphasize storytelling and writing without an adult leading the way. Our middle school students have been writing comic books this year, a couple of students have been working on film scripts, and storytelling is a huge part of the role-playing games that the kids create throughout the year.

We have always used drama and storytelling as a bridge to literacy and Robin Jackson has been a huge force in teaching through the arts. She has been heavily involved in the Southern Shakespeare Company and is currently co-director of the Bardlings troupe for middle and high school students. Miss Robin brings her experience with SSC and other cultural organizations to Grassroots and its drama club. She and the kids have recently done an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, coordinated the Singing for Our Lives performance at the school’s Pollinator Festival, and she is working with one of our students on an adaptation of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp that he wrote during the summer. You can read more about Miss Robin and her approach to teaching here.

Art is also a building block for storytelling and expression.

We use art as a core part of our teaching. For very young children, drawing is a part of pre-literacy and it helps them transition from literal expression of needs and wants to symbolic expression of more complex thoughts and ideas. Drawing and coloring help develop fine motor skills as well. For older children, art is a way to add meaning to experience. Amy Von Chamier uses her fine arts background to help Grassroots students develop their skills and vision. She also brings her passion for nature and science to the classroom, teaching kids how to draw the plants and animals we find in our own backyards.

A student talks about a good book with a friend during a school camping trip.

As our students get older, they still enjoy reading out loud and sharing their thoughts about what they are reading. Even though technology plays a big role in the lives of 21st century children, our students still enjoy traditional books and will make recommendations to each other. Our students and staff sometimes put together displays of favorite books from the library or write reviews for the student newspaper.

The Grassroots Student Times helps kids break into the world of journalism.

Students of all ages contribute to the Grassroots Student Times. They write the stories, take photos, do illustrations and comics, and help Chloe Marshall lay out and print the paper. Kids write about the issues that are important to them and the paper is good way to get a glimpse into what the Grassroots students care about.

The holistic approach to literacy sounds like it is great for most kids, but, what if a child has a learning disability? While Grassroots does not do diagnostic testing for learning disabilities, we work in partnership with families to give each of our students a supportive environment that is tailored to their needs. If your child needs specific help with something, talk to our staff and let us know what we can do to support your family.