Greene County News Report
FAIRBORN — Preschooler and soon-to-be kindergartner Olivia Russi became an author in her classroom at Wright Field North Child Development Center when she decided to write and illustrate her very first book.
Not only did she write the words in her book she titled My ABCD Family Book, but she illustrated her story as well.
“I like books,” Olivia said. “In my old house, we had a library and I got to read any kind of book I wanted.”
Olivia’s father, Master Sgt. Jason Russi, spoke about Olivia’s interest in reading, and how he and Olivia’s mother have worked hard to create a literacy-rich environment at home.
“We make it a point to have many books at our house,” Russi said. “We converted a spare bedroom into a library for the children and they were only allowed to read in there. At first I thought that room wouldn’t get any use, but Olivia would rather be in there than in the toy room.”
When people hear the word literacy, many think about the ability to read words on a page and maybe they even think back to classics like A Tale of Two Cities or Moby Dick in high school or college English courses. But literacy is much more than the ability to read words on a page; it’s the ability to critically think about and apply those words—which is exactly what five-year-old Olivia did.
“Olivia made the connection that the ABC song her class sang is made up of words that can be written down,” said Lynn Tufts, the training and curriculum specialist at WFN CDC. “Then she connected that the letters in the song can be represented in different ways—the letter itself, an animal whose name starts with that letter … not to mention that she created this to share with her family, her teachers and her classmates.”
Olivia’s connections and creativity might seem simple to many, but pouring a solid foundation that encourages critical reading and thinking starts very early in a person’s life. And perhaps just as important is allowing children of all ages to have fun with what they are learning.
According to DoD News, [former] Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer called education “a big equalizer” during the Military Child Education Coalition’s 17th National Training Seminar earlier this month.
“If you can get your hands on education, it is the equalizer that can put you on the path to achieve anything you want to achieve,” Spencer said.
That education can start at the Wright-Patt AFB child development centers.
The teachers in the child development centers are trained to recognize when children take this kind of initiative on their own. They also know how to encourage it without stepping too far into the child’s independence and budding creativity.
“Our teachers are provided training to develop their skills to interact thoughtfully and purposefully with children in developmentally appropriate ways,” said Necoleia Friend, the supervisory training and curriculum specialist. “Teachers can then use these skills to intentionally plan experiences that foster emerging literacy skills.”
On each page of Olivia’s book, she wrote a letter of the alphabet and drew an animal that corresponds to that letter. For the letter Z, Olivia drew a multi-colored zebra.
“As adults, we shouldn’t tell her that a zebra is only black and white; that’s not how Olivia sees it,” Tufts said. “If we say, ‘a zebra is only black and white,’ then Olivia will think she’s wrong with her colorful creation. That would stunt her creativity and her learning—not to mention her self-esteem.”
Alicia Briggs, her teacher at Wright Field North, facilitated Olivia’s learning by laminating her book and helping her join the pages together.
“If we teach students that words have meaning and then a child creates a book with words, we need to encourage that,” Tufts said. “If we show interest, she’ll see we value her ideas and that we are excited about her writing.”
Tufts also spoke about common misunderstandings adults have when they see children “playing.”
“Some look in our classrooms, see children playing and then say ‘well all they are doing is playing,’ but that’s how children learn,” Tufts said. “We create environments that encourage learning through play.”
“Our programs use the Creative Curriculum, which has the philosophy that children learn by doing,” Friend said. “Learning requires actively thinking and experimenting with their environment to discover the world they live in—to help them become independent, self-confident, inquisitive learners.”
Anyone who looked in Olivia’s classroom while she was creating her book would have seen her simply drawing and perhaps to the unsuspecting passerby, she was just “playing.” But Olivia’s creation is the evidence that supports the Creative Curriculum’s philosophy. This young student was playing, doing something she enjoys, and extending her interests independently.
“I have to hand it to the CDC,” Russi said. “This environment — it really breeds this type of thing because if she wanted to sit and just write…they let her do this. They don’t push the kids into anything — it’s more free. That’s really helped her because it gives her time to sit and ponder—she can go get a book and bring it wherever.”
Russi explained that since Olivia has finished this first book, she now puts pieces of paper together with multiple words and sentences, and she creates cards for everyone with pictures with “written by Olivia” on the back.
“I feel like a human thesaurus half the time,” Russi said smiling. “She’s always asking me ‘what’s another word for …’ or ‘how do you spell …’ She knows there’s a word that describes what she’s trying to say.”
According to Olivia, who will be attending Main Elementary School in Beavercreek this fall, she is very excited to go to a new school and to start kindergarten. But there is one thing she is most excited about…
“There is no nap!!” she shouted with a smile.
And in true kindergartener fashion, she also spoke about what she wants to be when she grows up. Or rather, what she wants to do.
“I want to find bones at the beach,” Olivia said. “And I’ll put them in a basket.”
Although being a writer didn’t make the cut, her interest in words and her poetic diction can’t be missed.