Dahlov Ipcar’s book “Animal Hide & Seek,” recently republished by Islandport Press in Yarmouth, was a perfect choice for teacher Deb Hatt’s 25 very active fourth-graders at Mount Vernon Elementary School. I’ve been spending an afternoon each month teaching writing to these students, and it’s been a lot of fun. The kids are enthusiastic and really enjoy our afternoons together.
So far they’ve written about their favorite old things (I told them this story could not be about their parents!), their favorite animals, their favorite after-school activity, and their favorite places in and outside of Mount Vernon.
In the fall we went into the woods behind the school, took notes, and came back to write about what we saw there. It took quite an effort to get them out of the woods!
I have tried to make writing fun for them. The kids have written news stories and editorials. I especially liked the news story by one of the girls who wrote about the shooting contest she’d won recently at the Augusta range. And their editorial opinions were very interesting!
I asked them to start writing in a diary at home, and some of them brought their diaries to one of our afternoon sessions and read from them. I was encouraged to hear that many intend to keep writing in their diaries. They seemed to understand right away that they could write about anything they wanted in their diaries. It could be all about them.
After each writing assignment is done, each student gets up and reads what he or she has written. Some of them read with a lot of enthusiasm — I’ve told them that, to succeed in life, they need to be able to read, write, and speak well.
I have concluded, however, that I could never have been a teacher. I’m exhausted after two and a half hours with these kids. I don’t know how teachers do it, every day, all day. No wonder my wife Linda is tired when she gets home from school! It was really heartwarming when I heard that the kids had asked if Mr. Smith could come every week. Oh no!
Towards the end of March, I asked them to write about what they looked forward to this summer. Here’s what they said (and yes, some said they looked forward to no school):
“Hot days and you can just jump in the stream. Road trips. I really like to plant things. I love getting fresh vegetables and seeing flowers climb up the garden fence.”
“Being able to play all day, swimming and camping and bird watching. Biking. Ice Cream.”
“I want to shoot my new .22 I got for my birthday. And I want to go to my uncle’s camp. I want to go rafting and fishing. I want to go to the big museum next to the Capitol again. The beach, Camden and Bar Harbor, whale watching … ” This wish list went on for four pages!
“I love swimming. I go under water and look at fish and find cool rocks. I just love when my hair is under water. I wish I was a mermaid. I can’t wait to climb trees. It is fun!”
Some eagerly anticipated visits by friends and relatives, like this one: “My cousin comes to Maine from New Hampshire for a few weeks and he is really fun to spend time with.”
“I will beg my Mom every day to go to Disney World (perhaps I should have warned her mother?). I will go to my Grammy’s island and go fishing.”
“Summer will be awesome. I will get to sleep in, stay up late, eat lots of food, jump in the pool, look for birds.”
“I like taking walks and riding my bike down the big hill. And the one huge thing I can’t wait for is SOCCER!”
“I love to get outside, bike, exercise, and I like to listen to music and I’ll grab a snack and play with my dog. P.S. We love to dance in the rain!!!”
“I can’t wait until we start building our chicken coop. My brother will have to clean chicken poop.”
“I am looking forward to seeing my grandparents because I never see them in the winter because it is too cold for them to stay here. I am looking forward to going to Girl Scout Camp.”
And finally, here’s a girl that I just have to love: “I love to swim, it is one of my favorite things to do (other than writing with Mr. Smith and doing math with Mrs. Hatt).”