Literacy Is All Around Us

By Maria Acevedo-Aquino, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, San Antonio, TX, in collaboration with graduate students

When conversing with graduate students about their experiences as early childhood educators and caregivers, they often describe curricula that supports views on literacy reduced to reading and writing. These perspectives tend to overlook the multiple ways in which children, make sense of their world and construct meaning in a daily basis. While this argument is not new, the process for integrating learning experiences in the classroom align with expansive ways of thinking about literacy is a persistent struggle. This post offers learning experiences that highlight broader views on literacy to further explore the picturebook All Around Us written by Xelena Gonzáles with illustrations by Adriana Garcia.

All Around Us cover features girl meditating on circles with a portion of a rainbow visible in the upper right corner

All Around Us is a story about a girl and her grandfather on a reflective journey about the circles in life–those that can be seen and those that cannot, from the rainbow to the bike’s wheels, from the seed to the vegetable. This book, (written by/through or grounded in) Latinx and Indigenous voices, offers readers of all ages opportunities to inquire about circles and shapes, neighborhoods, life cycles, family stories, dynamics, artifacts and relationships, acts of remembering, loss, hope and storytelling. For us, All Around Us also represents our personal and professional San Antonio communities.

While working with All Around Us, we approached literacy as a social practice of meaning that is multimodal, must encourage the development of a critical eye, and acts toward freedom and justice (Harste, 2014; Souto-Manning, 2016). To enact these views on literacy, we also build on the concept of curricular invitations (VanSluys, 2005) to create experiences that could encourage:
• Children’s perspectives
• Process-based learning
• Creativity
• Inquiry
• High-order thinking
• Collaboration
• Dialogue and storytelling
• Multiple skills
• On-going learning
• Deep connections to the story
• Choice
• Interpretation
• Problem-solving

These descriptors supported us to think beyond worksheets and pre-cut arts and crafts, which are often overused in early childhood settings. They challenged us to rethink experiences that have been taken for granted in the field and here we provide our suggestions for curricular invitations.

• Inspired by guessing games, invite children to use their senses to guess the items inside the box. The items will share a circular shape, but will differ in size, texture, consistency and use. This invitation focuses on circles in the real world that you can see. Supporting literature can include:

o Hello, Círculos! Shapes in English y Español, by San Antonio Museum of Art
o Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes, by Hena Khan
o A Big Mooncake for Little Star, by Grace Lin

• Inspired by the power of nature walks, invite students to use natural materials (leaves, moss, pebbles and branches, petals, seeds, etc.) to create a self-portrait or representation to show how individuals are part of the world and the world is part of us. The invitation focuses on the interconnectedness between humans and nature. Supporting literature can include:

o Anywhere Artist, by Nikki Slade Robinsol
o Aquarium, by Cynthia Alonso
o I am Enough, by Grace Byers

• Inspired by cultural practices around the world to honor our loved ones, invite children to create a chain link of connecting circles. Each circle will represent someone or something (animals, events, artifacts) important in the life of the child. Tie both ends to show how those influences contribute the child’s identity. Tie the chain to a tree (China) or put them together to create a kite (Guatemala) to share the child’s thoughts with the world. Supporting literature can include:

o Wish: Wishing Traditions Around the World, by Roseanne Thong
o Finn’s Feather, by Rachel Noble
o My Tata’s Guitar, by Ethriam Cash Brammer

• Inspired by the muralist Adriana García, invite children to create a mural with the children that are important in their lives–those that they can see and those that they can’t. Supporting literature can include:

o Maybe Something Beautiful, by Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell
o Sofi and the Magic, Musical Mural, by Raquel Ortiz
o Small World, by Ishta Mercurio

Professional Literature:

Harste, J. (2014). The art of learning to be critically literate. Language Arts, 92(2), pp. 90-102.

Souto-Manning, M. & Martell, J. (2016). Reading, writing, and talk: Inclusive strategies for diverse learners, K-2. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
VanSluys, K. (2005). What if and why? Literacy invitations for multilingual classrooms. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

For further information about All Around Us, its creators, awards, and additional examples of multimodal and invitational literacy engagements visit the All Around Us website. Next week the post will examine All Around Us in relationship to picturebooks that highlight the power of family stories in Latinx households.

[Author Note: This post uses we/us to describe the collaboration between Maria Acevedo-Aquino and graduate students.

Admin Note: All Around Us has been featured in April 2019’s My Take/Your Take.]

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