Seymour Simon has been called “the dean of children’s science writers” by the New York Times. Next week, you can also call him “visiting celebrity author” for the Cider Mill students.
“It’s really exciting. He’s not only a great author, he’s very interested in teaching. He’s all about getting kids observing the world around them and writing about it. Of course his ‘thing’ is science, but in general, getting them excited about observation and writing about it,” enthused Gina Dignon, the language arts instructional leader at Cider Mill.
Sounds like a perfect kind of job for someone whose name phonetically sounds exactly like the thing he’s trying to teach the kids: see more.
Simon, appearing at the school thanks to the Cider Mill PTA, is a prolific author of more than 250 acclaimed non-fiction books for children. According to his website, his books “…encourage children to enjoy the world around them through learning and discovery, and by making science fun. He has introduced tens of millions of children to a staggering array of subjects; one prominent science education specialist described Simon’s books as ‘extraordinary examples of expository prose.’ Simon taught science and creative writing in elementary and secondary schools and was chair of the science department at a junior high school in the New York City public school system before leaving to become a full-time writer. “I haven’t really given up teaching,” he says, “and I suppose I never will, not as long as I keep writing and talking to kids around the country and the world.”
“I heard him speak at Columbia Teacher’s College, and I was so impressed with how excited he is about writing and getting kids to write. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could bring him to Cider Mill. Thankfully the PTA was so supportive of it,” Dignon said, adding,”He’s in his 80s and he’s very tech savvy and excited about what he does. He’s involved with a digital library that the kids work with, so he’s like a literary celebrity that they know. It’s great.”
When Simon visits schools he often engages the kids ahead of time with a school specific contest. He’s done that for Cider Mill, and the kids are writing a lot in anticipation of his visit.
“The contest he’s running on his website, SeymourSimon.com, taps into what we’re teaching the kids in reading and writing. They took an excerpt of his book, Lightning Never Lies, which is an “Einstein Anderson, Science Geek” mystery series book. He’s asking them to read it and make some observations about the character and then write on his blog about how they connect to the character. They’ll select one winner from each grade level to receive an autographed copy of the book,” Dignon explained.
The children are also able to contribute on his “Writing Wednesday” blog, for which he asks kids to respond to a written or photo prompt. “He had asked them to write about a red fox he photographed in his yard. Some Cider Mill students posted, and they shared their writing during morning announcements with one another.” Dignon says that reinforcement of peer-to-peer celebration of writing helps get the students even more engaged and excited about learning.
Cider Mill parents can take also part in the program. “Parents who have a Cider Mill student are invited to attend [Simon’s] presentation when their child is going. We just ask them to get in touch with classroom teachers to confirm when to come in. But anyone can go to his website, SeymourSimon.com, and click on his science blog, and you can visit the “Contest” page. Our contest comes up and you can scroll down in the comments to see what the kids have been writing. If you want to see anything on the Writing Wednesday, you can see the most current one here. I’ve asked the teachers to try and get their students to do it before he comes and hopefully once a month throughout the year, or more if it has something that’s applicable to what’s being taught in reading or writing at the time.”
Visiting authors are regular programs that happen at Cider Mill. Later in the year, the school will welcome award-winning children’s book writer Kate Klise, also with support of the Cider Mill PTA. Klise, whose Regarding series is popular with children, will be an author-in-residence for a week with the Cider Mill fourth graders. “She’ll work with them on how to write a bestseller. The kids really like her,” Dignon said.