Friday, June 28, 2013

Early Steps toward Independence

Robin Page and Steve Jenkins create a model of how to present science for young children with their book My First Day. They start by telling children what they, as newborn babies, did on the first day. They then use the same format to describe what other creatures did on their first day--some achieve more than a human newborn, others even less (the Siberian tiger, for instance, is born with its eyes closed and remains completely dependent on its mother). 

Author and artist pick usually one, often surprising fact about that animal (or bug, in one case). A wood duck, for instance, jumps out of its nest and falls "a long long way" out of its nest into a pond, then paddles after its mother on its first day. Each illustration depicts the adult parent with the newborn, so children can see how the baby will look when it's grown.

Implicit in these snapshots of animals--many of which are independent in certain respects from the start (joining the herd, walking right away)--is that their parents (usually the mother, but in the case of Darwin's frog or the emperor penguin, the father) are never far from them. Jenkins's cut-paper collage in realistic colors and textures follows a similar visual design on the page, and keeps the focus on parent and offspring.

In addition to being an outstanding introduction to science, this book is ideal for starting a conversation about going away for day camp or starting preschool or kindergarten: If a child is feeling any anxieties about leaving home to go solo for part of the day or being in a new environment, his or her worries can bubble up in a safe way, through questions about how the animal parents reunite with their babies. Detailed notes in the back of the book help parents and caregivers answer some of the more probing questions.

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