My Own

Expanding the Child's World Through Lively Interplay with Books

Tom Bruggman

Tom Bruggman is a board-certified psychologist at the Calvert School in Baltimore, Maryland. He works with parents, teachers and students. He has a special interest in students with dyslexia and in interdisciplinary approaches in education.

Rainbow Flight is a book series developed as part of a doctoral dissertation in educational counseling and psychology. A website, SPARKALL.com, is being developed to accompany the books. The overall goal of the series is to enhance character development in students ages four to fourteen. It deals with a broad range of safety, social and emotional issues supporting the emerging learner. It can be a tool useful to parents and caregivers as well as educators, counselors and teachers. The series, in design and use, has some innovations useful to a broader range of learning styles and supports the collaborative as well as the independent learner. The title was chosen because the rainbow is a universal symbol and the goal is to open the world to the students. It also emphasizes a gender enhancing approach. Color codes are developed for sharing and giving directions. Music and creative play ties together with the wonderful creative illustrations of the students of the Calvert School (Baltimore, MD). The series is meant to empower both adults and students to share strengths and to develop more open and supportive communications, positive feelings, and independence while still working together.

Rainbow Flight starts with a song, "Flying High and Asking Why?" The students are asked what color they are as a way of getting them to express their feelings. Matching color with feelings helps students with associations in the world around them. It helps them to discover universal truths about families and friendships. Blue is a mighty ocean or the color of the sky or a tiny bird. Children enjoy searching for analogies. They tie the child to the world around them as well as helping to explain feelings. Different colors and feelings are a part of everyone's life.

The theme of coloring the world is infused with the structure that helps everyone in a group work "twogether". As the group begins rules are created to run the group. Play crowns are made and colored so that the students can be "rulers of rules". This is a positive step to mutual respect and mutual responsibility. This can be strengthened with adult rules. These might include green means glow, not just go. Another rule could be that yellow means great and red means stop and relax. By using colors, negative words or terms are neutralized and the group is strengthened with a creative new language of support that is easy, secret and fun. The vocabulary list is based on cognitive theories for positive thinking and feeling. Through these children more easily learn self awareness of behavior, how to monitor internal thinking ways to communicate and share positive creative outcomes. The children begin to assume personal responsibility for their actions. Terms like she is in the "glow zone" or he's in the "no zone' are part of a group language that promotes self awareness and control. They then use these descriptive words with each other.

The students talk about their puppet friends, Zoomie and Bloomie. Each puppet's unique gender qualities are explored. In some groups other puppet friends are created to share the empowerment of togetherness. These puppets experience the sad and the funny sides of life, sing the opening song, and open topics of a serious nature. Lessons, stories and ideas are reviewed from a previous session while building continuity for all.

The various stories in the series crisscross themes for the emerging learner. The "Fish Wish Finishing School" helps us "sea" the good things about school from the bottom up. That is then related to sharing life in school while living in our own sea of air. The art work illustrating each story mixes age's abilities, and skills to help all students identify with the stories. The student creative work is the unique strength that pulls the extraordinary out of each child.

The cooperative foundation to learning is used with the conclusion of each story. There extra additional pages are left blank. This offers the student reader the chance to add their own special words and art work. Another page is for a teacher, parent or friend to create something also. This opportunity to pair and share brings ownership and cooperation "twogether" with each story.

The stories of Rainbow Flight all come with exercises and activities that reinforce the story themes while adding to the creativity of the student or of the class. Accompanying the story "Me!Me! Me! Me! Me!" self-portraits were selected from the more than 400 submitted by students at the Calvert School. Those drawings are arranged by age so that the students can see what their drawings were like at just age four years and how their skills, insights and interests change over the years. Foe example, on page four one child is four, the next child is four and a quarter followed by a drawing of a four and one half year old and finally a child of four and three quarters. Young children speak of themselves in these terms. Age is correlated with page numbers throughout to reinforce the mathematical concept. In the story "Be!Be!Be!Be!Be!" students demonstrate the jobs and careers that they want to pursue when they grow up. Their imaginations come alive through their art work.

Rainbow Flight encourages individual children and groups of children to build a relationship with an adult using color, story, puppets, music and illustration to share ideas openly. Playing with words and using them creatively expands vocabulary. Both child and adult can be intimidated by the experience of being so expressive with another person. Through shared experiences barriers can be broken. Everyone glows a bit from the funny pictures and the self-confidence of finding out more about the many wonderful and different people in the world.

Many teachers, psychologists and librarians are already using children's picture books to discuss dreams, pain, and other ideas. Adding the fun of a secret vocabulary, a special song, or a unique class theater experience brings books alive. Personal illustrations of the story's theme bring a new opportunity for dialogue. It gives each child and adult another way to process the ideas. It gives everyone a chance to share a bit of their own personal story and to learn from each other. Stronger communities are built as people come together through shared experiences.


Tom Bruggman

Volume 8, Issue 1 The Looking Glass, January, 2004

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"Expanding the Child's World Through Lively Interplay with Books" © Tom Bruggman 2004.
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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680