Sunday / May 26

Using Children’s Literature Across Disciplines

Using Children's Literature

Teachers have very busy schedules. They often work with an overcrowded curriculum and are asking for learning experiences that integrate, where appropriate, the learning of mathematics, language arts, and other disciplines, such as science, social studies, and art.

Using Children's LiteratureWe find using selected children’s literature is a meaningful resource to integrate the curriculum and provide children rich learning experiences. As well, we notice that children’s literature appeals and engages children and motivates them to learn because it is written about their everyday lived world and their emotions.

Here is an example we share with you that shows how we use children’s literature to integrate the curriculum and motivate children to learn. Using Graeme Base’s The Waterhole, children travel an informative journey through many countries, identifying an indigenous animal from each. Through their journey they explore numbers 1-10 and, at the same time, become aware of a critical environmental issue – What happens to animals when they no longer have water to drink?

About the Mathematics: In The Waterhole, children learn four different representations for each number from 1 to 10. For example, the spoken word for number 5 is heard when the book is read aloud, as well, it is shown as:

  • a numeral (5)
  • a number word (five)
  • a pictorial representation depicting animals

In addition, children:

  • Learn to count accurately the animals
  • Recognize that the last number spoken tells how many
  • Deepen their understanding of number when they create their own number book 1-10 showing different representations of the number

Mathematics Learning Experiences:

  • Look at each double page spread and ask the following question: How many (name the animal depicted) do you see? (Using 5 as an example.)

Sample Answers:


  • Counts the animals correctly and knows that the last number spoken tells how many;
  • Points to numeral 5 and says, “There are 5.”;
  • Points to the word five and says, “There are five.”;
  • Says, “I just know.”
  • Give each child a blank page, have her/him choose any number from The Waterhole and design a double page spread showing the number in many different ways. Collate the pages and make a Counting Book 1-10. (Depending on the number of children, more than one Counting Book 1-10 may be created,)

Language Arts Learning Experiences:

  • Retell The Waterhole from the frogs’ point of view. Make a book and illustrate. Include a book cover, title, author/illustrator’s name, copyright date.
  • Search the web and other sources to identify the indigenous animals in your province or state. List the animals. Choose an animal, write an interesting fact about the animal. Create a double page spread similar to The Waterhole.

Art Learning Experiences: 

  • Search and discuss the artistic style of Graeme Base.
  • Find other children’s books where the illustrators use watercolors, pencil and gouache to depict the illustrations. Make a book display.
  • Create an illustration using watercolors, pencil and gouache.

Science Learning Experiences:

  • In The Waterhole, the water decreases as more animals arrive at the waterhole. Finally all is consumed. Ask:
    • What is happening? Why?
    • What do you think the animals will do?
    • How might they get water?
  • Read, “And all the animals went away”. Ask:
    • Where do you think the animals went?
    • Do you think they will come back? Why or Why not?
    • Discuss the importance of water conservation.
  • Count the frogs on each page. Ask:
  • What do you notice?
  • Discuss why the illustrator (Base) shows fewer number of frogs as the water hole shrinks.
  • Discuss how frogs are considered an indicator of a declining environment. (Frogs are considered nature’s canary in the mine.)

Social Studies Learning Experience:

  • Refer to the last page of The Waterhole. Find the countries listed on a map, globe or world map on the web.


Base, G. (2004). The Waterhole. New York: Puffin.

Janes, R. C. & Strong, E. L (2014). Numbers & Stories: Using Children’s Literature

to Teach Young Children Number Sense. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Written by

Rita Janes was a teacher at all levels of schooling and most recently involved in professional development with elementary school teachers where she promotes the use of rich problem solving tasks, mathematical discourse, and asking of good questions to ensure inquiry-oriented classroom environments for children. Rita has served on the Board of Directors for the National Council of Teachers and the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics and chaired the NCTM Professional Development Services Committee. Elizabeth Strong’s career began as a primary-elementary teacher, then elementary school administrator, school district curriculum coordinator and university professor. Her focus areas are literacy, language arts and children’s literature. She is an international, national, provincial and regional professional development presenter and facilitator. She has served on such boards as the International Board on Books for Young Children and the Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence in Science, Technology and Mathematics. She holds a Ph. D in education from The Ohio State University.

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