Instead of Education

Holt’s book is outdated but still rings true.

I’ve been making my way through John Holt’s books about education and respecting children lately, and I wondered by I couldn’t find a copy of his book Instead of Education. Surely it would be at one local library, at least?

I requested an interlibrary loan of the book and discovered why quickly. The book itself was ancient, bound in hardback and appearing quite aged, and rightfully so—and its material was a bit obsolete. Don’t misinterpret this as Holt’s message being obsolete; it could not be more relevant today as it was in the 1970s, if not more so.

The information, however, is very outdated. Holt speaks of communities needing more resources for learning, from libraries to community centers to presses to print newsletters. How could he have predicted every Tom, Dick, and Harry publishing his own free blog by 2012?

Now I get why most people don’t cite this book. It was very much needed when it was published—it just isn’t today. I would suggest starting with How Children Learn or How Children Fail and skipping this one—not because it’s not important, but because much (not all, of course!) of what Holt advocates in the 1970s has come to life today.

Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep

A humorous picture book to welcome winter

One of the sweetest and funniest picture books that my daughter and I have read this winter is Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep by Maureen Wright. Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand, the book tells the story of Big Bear, who is getting really tired as winter approaches. Though Old Man Winter keeps telling him to sleep, Big Bear has trouble hearing, and he misunderstands the spirit of the cold.

So rather than sleeping, Big Bear embarks on various adventures—from driving a jeep to sweeping a home, climbing a mountain and many more exploits—as he grows sleepier and sleepier. Old Man Winter, growing increasingly irritated with Big Bear’s apparent refusal to go to sleep, finally belts out at the bear—who, of course, tells him he doesn’t have to yell.

I used the book as a delightful introduction to hibernation for my six-year-old, who giggled every time Big Bear misheard Old Man Winter, whose face was portrayed as a cold winter cloud. Both of us thought that the first “mishearing” that the bear had, which was to go drive a jeep rather than to go to sleep, was the funniest, and that the bear’s little rabbit companion was as cute as can be. We also loved the pictures in general, which were round and friendly, but with plenty of dramatic flair to make the bear’s adventures with his bunny friend stand out against the winter snow and cold.

A great activity to do with this book would be to play the game telephone, where messages are distorted as each player recounts them to the next. The first player whispers into the ear of the next player, and so on, until the original message is revealed by the last player. It’s usually something completely different from what the original message was supposed to be, which, of course, delights everyone.

Another good game to play when using this book in a classroom setting is to have one child (or the teacher) be Old Man Winter and the other children be the bear, and have the children come up with other rhymes that weren’t in the book (for example, “Don’t make a peep, Big Bear,” or “Act like Little Bo Peep”). This will be sure to get them all laughing as well as practicing language and rhyming skills.

Having the children make their own dens to hibernate in out of laundry baskets, boxes, or even sheets would be another fun idea to go along with this sweet book.