Have you ever wished you could go back in time? Have you wondered what it would be like to do things “the old fashioned way”? If so, you might enjoy reading the book, “My Side of the Mountain,” by Jean Craighead George. The main character in the book, a 14-year old boy named Sam Gribley, is unhappy living in New York City, so he runs away to the Catskill Mountains in New York to live by himself in the woods. The author depicts Sam as a boy who faces challenges head-on and overcomes them. With only a couple of tools, Sam intends to survive in the wilderness on his own. Although he ends up some 120 miles away from home, he is successful at making provisions for his daily existence for a whole year.
Readers of this Newbery Honor book may find themselves wishing for independence, and it is this desire that our 5th grade teachers capitalize on after their students finish reading the book. During his year in the wilderness, Sam learns many necessary survival skills, such as how to hunt for his own food, create wood tools, and make a home from a tree that keeps him warm and dry. In our 5th grade classrooms, Mrs. Fickel and Mrs. Turella encourage their students to choose a project that allows them to experience life as Sam would have. Students extend their literacy learning through hands-on activities, some of which may be learning survival or life skills, and then share their new knowledge with the class.
Some students choose to make berry jam and bring it in to share with the class. Other students use clay, wood and rocks to create replicas of the fireplace Sam built for himself from the natural elements surrounding him in the wilderness. Still other students learn how to whittle and bring in their homemade whistles to demonstrate. Should they ever need to call a hawk, they’ll be ready! Student presentations also include shooting and editing video of their step-by-step processes, an important life skill to have in today’s computer-savvy world.
The whole focus of literacy extensions is that students see relevance in their reading. The outcome is that students are engaged, and enjoying the learning process. Given our small class sizes, our teachers have ample opportunity to spend 1:1 time with each student to help them create robust projects that are personalized to their unique learning styles. Teachers are giving students the tools they will need to read increasingly complex literature and texts and be able to relate to what they read and determine how it might apply to life today for themselves and others. Students at ECS are learning literacy and study skills that prepare them for a lifetime of success.
[“My Side of the Mountain” is available through various online book stores, or at your local library.]