How can we encourage young children to read and read some more, wherever they are and at all times? Such is the challenge that Marie-Pierre Preece, aka MP, set herself before retiring as La Grande Boissière Primary Librarian, a mission she accomplished with creativity and grace at the end of 2020.
Knowing that students regularly visit the campus’ magnificent forest, MP came up with the idea of enriching these visits through reading. With the help of members of the services techniques, she installed seventeen lecterns all along the trail that meanders through the wooded grounds, each presenting the pages of a book.
Thus did the forest become an annex of the library, with the canopy as roof, tree stumps as seats, a carpet of leaves and twigs, and the scent of the undergrowth replacing that of paper. “Being outdoors brings an element of fun to the pedagogical benefits of reading,” explains MP.
The showcased books are selected with care and changed every fortnight by Stéphanie and Morgane, our current librarians. Each choice is carefully considered: the book must be both thought-provoking and linked with the curriculum, the season or the time of year. Books must alternate between English and French, and be accessible to all Primary students.
Guided by their teacher, students can wander between pages, roam between stories, comb through the illustrations while in contact with nature, which has proven to be beneficial for well-being and learning. "This book trail is a fantastic educational activity: interacting with nature captures students' interest and gives them a sense of freedom and autonomy. As they wander through the forest, they seek the next page and discover a new story,” adds Florence, who works with 5-6-year-old children.
Invigorated by the fresh air and the many sensory experiences, students are then better able to concentrate when they return to their classrooms. And they always return for more: our librarians see children asking to borrow the book they discovered in the forest.
As for teachers, they too benefit from an extraordinary exchange with their students in an environment that breaks with the traditional classroom.
The book trail is accessible to parents and staff. Regardless of the age of the readers, few will come away from this stroll unmoved. After all, a children's book rarely leaves anyone indifferent, because we all share one thing in common: having once upon a time been a child.
This article was originally published in the spring 2022 issue of Echo magazine.