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Arlington farm inspires children’s writing | SLIDESHOW
ARLINGTON — In the nine years that John Connolly has been farming in Arlington, his work had never served as an inspiration for young writers, until a rainy Thursday morning brought a field trip group of 19 contemplative third-grade students, including his son Eli, to his farm.
Eli Connolly attends the Soundview School of Lynnwood, and his third-grade teacher, Ethan Benson, wanted to bring E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” to life for his students by taking them to see, hear and smell an area farm not unlike the one inhabited by Wilbur the pig.
“I’ve taught it for many years because it has tons of great descriptive writing,” Benson said. “It’s among the best of children’s literature because it’s not written down to kids, but it’s accessible to them.”
Benson already has an entire unit of his curriculum devoted to storytelling, culminating in the class writing its own fables, but on March 29, Benson was able to encourage his students to be expressive in their writing by connecting White’s accounts of his fictional farm to their own experiences on a real-life farm. The kids sat under cover of the rain with notepads in hand, some on Connolly’s front porch, the rest next to his herding dogs, to try and figure out how to evoke the chirping of birds and the smell of hay and manure to their own readers.
“We’ve never had a visit from students like this before,” John Connolly said. “We’re generally too busy to host student field trips, but it’s our son’s school. We all had a ball, though.”
Unlike Eli, John Connolly has never read “Charlotte’s Web,” although he did see the movie. Still, he appreciated the chance to show children his son’s age that “it’s possible to live this life, which is a lot of hard work, but very rewarding,” and like Benson, the elder Connolly was impressed with the quality of writing he heard when the students read their descriptions of his farm aloud.
“Kids need to find ways to express themselves, and I admire this technique of teaching them to write well, which they all need to learn,” John Connolly said.
“Kids won’t become good writers unless it’s a natural part of their lives,” Benson said. “We do free writing in class every day, because you only get good at it with practice.”
Benson singled out Eli Connolly for particular praise, crediting him with organizing his fellow students through a tour of the barn to see and feed the sheep.
“I enjoyed the trip,” said Soundview third-grader Vincent Wilson. “It really brought us to the farm. We don’t have to just imagine Mr. Zuckerman’s farm from ‘Charlotte’s Web.’ It’s like we were really there.”
“Being on the farm helped me write,” agreed fellow third-grader Emerson Liscott. “I could see, feel, smell and hear what it was like to be on Mr. Zuckerman’s farm.”
“I wasn’t really surprised by anything, because the book really prepares you,” added third-grader Amber Kelley. “I liked the dogs a lot, because they were trained and under control. I didn’t like the smell around the cows, though.”
“I hope these kids learn how to write in ways that bring to life for others the things that interest them,” John Connolly said. “Everyone’s life is interesting, and everyone has an interesting story to tell.”