Kids and Real Stuff

This weekend I spent some time at the Minnesota Weavers Guild demonstration area at the Minnesota State Fair. One person wove on a floor loom, another wove on an inkle loom, a third person spun wool into yarn with a spinning wheel, and I crocheted and knit. All of us talked with people passing by who wanted to know more about what we were doing. State FairI noticed that kids were among the most interested in the assorted activities. I passed around a few samples of different wools and some mohair (which comes from angora goats). While it’s not exactly news that kids like hands-on experiences, I was struck again by just how much kids connect to the world around them in a very physical way—touching, smelling, and mashing the fibers in their sticky little hands.

CVM 2 While books have a tactile element to them, much of reading is a cerebral experience. Short of gluing tufts of wool in our books about sheep (an innovation I’d wholeheartedly endorse, though perhaps our production department would beg to differ), how we make books that attract kids’ attention?

Certainly, including familiar objects that kids can relate to, which Sara blogged about last week, is one thing that helps draw in readers. Excellent writing and compelling photographs are important as well.

I was also struck by the fact that kids have such genuine interest flyer spinning in what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call “real stuff.” How things work is inherently interesting. Seeing how the foot moves the treadle, which moves the wheel, which moves the bobbin and the flyer, which puts twist into the wool and pulls it out of the spinner’s hands and onto the bobbin is something that engages them.

What I remember best about the books I read as a child is not the familiar objects but the feeling of being transported to another world. Including lots of “real stuff” in our nonfiction books helps give readers the sensory experience they would have if they were experiencing something in person and helps transport them to that world. Every child won’t be able to visit a sheep farm or go on an archaeological dig and no child can travel back in time to Tenochtitlan in 1515, but perhaps they can all experience at least a piece of those journeys through the pages of our books.

top photo: courtesy Minnesota State Fair, Aug. 27-Sep. 7, 2009