An Exciting Invitation To Learn

For many kids, the end of summer is a greatly dreaded time of year.

Sometimes it's no picnic for parents,either. How do you get your kids excited about returning to the classroom?

In an interview with CBS News, Esmé Raji Codell, an expert of sorts on the subject, advises parents to be concerned, not just about preparing their children for the first day or the return to classes, but with preparing their children for the whole school year.



"The best way to prepare every day is to read aloud to your kids," says Codell, a teacher and children's literature specialist in Chicago and the author of Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher's First Year, which chronicles her first year teaching at an inner-city Chicago elementary school.

Esmé is eager to pass on the lessons she learned that year, one in which she says every ounce of her creative juices was just barely enough to keep her students on track.

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"Reading cuts into all curriculum areas," she says. "It's the most important thing that can be done by the parent. But you have to make it fun. There are so many ways to make it fun. There is no reason to think of reading as broccoli."

To encourage her students to read, Codell does all she can to create the right environment.

"Some people like to read on the beach, and a classroom teacher could spread out beach blankets and move the desks out of the way," she says. "Wear a bathing suit to school. Of course, the principal would probably end up as angry as mine did."

Codell herself always liked reading in bed under blankets, "so we put sheets over the desks, and the children had flashlights and pillows, and reading time was spent underneath the desk."

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She also created a "time machine" by taking a big box and filling it with nonfiction books about different historical periods. "Children went in and closed the door," she says. "When they came out, they had to say what they saw on their trip into the past."

She sometimes uses a makeshift device she calls a "TV head" to pretend that she's a TV set as she reads to the children. Modeling the device on her head - a box fashioned to look like a television set - Codell explains, "This is the way I greet the seventh and eighth graders who come into my classroom, because they need to look at something they're interested in. And TV is the thing that children, I think, are most interested in." She adds, "They need to transition out of the visual media into the more imaginative medium of reading."

At other times in the classroom, Codell uses a "trouble basket," a big green picnic basket in which she asks students to place their troubles so that they can concentrate on learning. For some of her students, those troubles have included being beaten at home or not having a home at all.

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To get children excited about school, Codell says, teachers should try to make the classroom as appealing as possible, recruiting them to decorate the room with bulletin boards including pictures and posters. "Create a fun environment," she advises. "Pay attention to the details."

And parents should teach their children that education is a privilege, she says. "American kids should understand that children in Africa would love to go back to school," she explains. "They should believe that they are lucky that they get to get up in the morning to get ready for school, that they are lucky to go."

Learn more about the work of Esm´ Raji Codell.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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