In Frontier Town they had a small western town with miniature houses that you could play in. There was a bakeshop, a barbershop, a bank, a courthouse, a jail, a church, a school ET. Al. My brothers and I would play out an entire story. You’d buy a cake, get a haircut, rob the bank, go to court, get thrown in jail, go to confession, get paroled and go back to school. It was so much fun. It wasn’t as much fun now as an adult to play in there but we loved watching Juliet enjoy herself. And my older boys enjoyed chasing her around from house to house, even throwing her in jail.
What is irresistible about these little houses is that they are “just right”. They are just the right size and scale for a four-year-old. They even have little furniture in them, beds and chairs or benches that make them seem like tiny little houses that you have all to yourself. For my part, I banged my head on the doorways so many times I think I gave myself a concussion. The things we do for our kids! But I know that Juliet is going to remember the little houses, maybe she’ll even take her kids there someday.
Takeaway: Learning is most effective when it is “just right”. The books students read need to be just right. Students should enjoy books because they speak to their experiences and the ideas and challenges they are wrestling with. The activities we do with students in our classrooms should be authentic. Students should find them engaging and relevant to their own lives. This is especially important at the middle level. Adolescents thrive on relevance. I recall when I was a new teacher using the example of a car to explain how the subject and predicate of a sentence works. In my inexperience I didn’t get that students could not relate to this example because, well, 12-year-olds don’t drive. We need to expose students to real-world experiences, but like the little houses in Storytown, we need to frame these experiences in a way that our students can understand, relate to and enjoy.