Nightingale’s Books and Big Ideas

DECEMBER 20, 2020

Last week, Nightingale was thrilled to launch a new enrichment series for Lower School parents and their children: Books and Big Ideas.

Beginning a conversation with an elementary-aged child about an important value or concept can sometimes feel overwhelming. How do you introduce the topic? What are some good examples to use to illustrate why this value is important? Fortunately, literature is a wonderful tool to use as an inroad for conversations and definitely for those about big ideas. As a part of our Books and Big Ideas series, members of our Lower School team lead conversations about a book that centers around a specific value and then model the types of conversations that would occur in a Lower School classroom at Nightingale.

Our inaugural Zoom session focused on the value of “Belonging” and the book of the night was The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by Rafael López. Head of Lower School Rebecca Urciuoli welcomed families and emphasized the importance of books and reading as a part of the Nightingale experience, especially when approaching conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion and exploring other aspects of social-emotional learning.

To begin, Director of Diversity and Equity Johara Sealy asked families to reflect on a time when they felt a true sense of belonging. Typing in the chat one word that encapsulated that feeling, participants watched a word cloud appear before them. Ms. Sealy shared, “We know that a sense of belonging is really important to the learning experience. It strengthens bonds and relationships. When members of a school community feel accepted, respected, and valued they’re motivated to be their best and give their best. When we think of belonging in the Lower School, we’re thinking about a deep sense of connectedness and the importance of being a recognized and valued member of our community.”

From there, Lower School Librarian Megan Westman introduced best practices for reading picture books to children. At their core, picture books are inherently conversation starters and going “off-script” is actively encouraged when reading together. As parents, it is helpful to share your own reactions, responses, or feelings and elicit the same from your child. For example, “Wow, that character is experiencing a big feeling. Have you ever had a moment like that?” Illustrations and artwork included in books also hold an important place in the discussion. “Why do you think the creators chose this illustration to be the cover of the book?” If anything else, the core questions that are helpful to return to are “what do you notice” and “what do you wonder?”

Ms. Westman reminded parents that big idea conversations should happen naturally, even if that means coming back to the conversation the next day. Also, it is important to embrace the idea that both parents and students are learners in this work and life. She shared, “I’m constantly wowed by our student’s insights, so feel free to let them teach you. Let it be as humbling and magical as it always is - that we’re all in this together.”

Then came the reading of the book of the hour. The Day You Begin tells the story of what it can feel like when you feel like an outsider. Sometimes the things that make us unique can also make us feel isolated. But then, something magical happens when you begin to tell your own story and share the special pieces of yourself with others. Suddenly, the world opens up wide and all of our similarities and differences can be celebrated—and they are all wonderful.

Following the read aloud, families met in breakout rooms to discuss the questions below and then returned to the main room to share their key takeaways, questions, and thoughts.

  • Share about a time when you really felt you belonged. What was the situation? What was it like to feel that way? What helped you feel that sense of belonging?
  • Think of a time when you felt out of place or unsure of whether you fit in somewhere. How did that make you feel? What barriers were there to your feeling of sense of belonging? How could others have welcomed you?
  • What are differences important in our classroom? In our community? In our world?
  • How can sharing our stories create a sense of belonging?
  • What can you do as an individual/what can we do as a community to ensure that all members of our community feel like they belong?

Thank you to all of our Lower School families who joined us for our first Books and Big Ideas evening. We look forward to upcoming sessions and welcoming more families to join in the discussion!

Pictured: Director of Diversity and Equity Johara Sealy reads from The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by Rafael López.