TOWN HILL, Maine — A new reading and activity program being launched by the Mount Desert Island-based Island Readers and Writers organization is hoping to turn young readers on to the fascinations of science.
“Literary Links to Science” will target kindergartners through second-graders in the group’s latest permutation of popular reading programs that have kindled the childhood curiosity that comes with linking up young Down East mainland and island readers with Maine authors and illustrators.
“Living in such a beautiful place as Maine, these kids are naturally curious about the natural world,” said Jan Coates, the group’s executive director. “This program will be utilizing picture books as a portal or gateway to discovering science.”
The program will be pioneered later this month in elementary schools in Lubec, Machias and Machiasport.
“We did Learning Link pilot projects in Frenchboro, North Haven, Vinalhaven and Islesboro, testing programs for different age groups,” Coates said. “We’ve been at this now for six years, and we continue to thrive in our efforts to inspire a passion for reading and learning. We continue to thrive in terms of having requests beyond what we can provide.”
Among those involved in planning and implementing the new science-centered program is Karen James. A research scientist at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Salisbury Cove, she describes the program as “a fantastic idea.”
“It makes a lot of sense to bring natural history and biology to kids so young because it’s something they’re already interested in, collecting rocks and shells and bugs and things,” she said. “Kids just gravitate toward that kind of thing.
“This is to link some fun children’s books to some basic scientific principles,” says James, who will work with the children at their schools, taking them outside to do real field work through the science experiments she is creating.
James’ efforts to conceptualize hands-on activities will tie into a picture book-based curriculum being developed by Linda Uberseder, a retired teacher and principal.
“Children have a natural curiosity about science,” Uberseder said. “They want to know more; they want to learn more. If you can feed that and keep them excited about it, it’s something they’ll retain longer.”
The curriculum to be launched later this month will include three topics: “Trees,” “Swirls in Nature” and “Tide Pools.” Each student will be given a picture book courtesy of IRW related to those topics, and teachers will get a series of books, a video introducing the program and suggested lesson plans, including book-related activities that take place before and after James’ visits to the schools involved.
For the “Trees” segment of the program, James will lead experiments and activities. One field trip has students collect twigs and leaves on school grounds as natural materials for individual specimen sheets.
“The idea is that, year after year, we can do this again and again,” James says. “And then the school will start developing an herbarium of the local tree species, and the kids will hopefully get a nice representative collection of the tree specimens in the school’s area and be able to look back at the collection and ask questions about leaves, colors, what time they were collected, shapes and size.”
Coates said the new science-centered curriculum is being funded through grants and donations to the nonprofit organization. In recent years, the group’s programming has attracted two major matching grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, although NEA funding is not involved in this program.
“We try to celebrate the multidisciplinary nature of a good story,” Coates said. “We find great stories and concentrate on Maine authors and illustrators, who we take to the kids so they can learn from and meet these folks and share with them some hands-on activity, which could be writing or illustration. It’s an interactive program that creates a lot of energy.”