Make Way for Ducklings: Assessing Reading Comprehension with Hands On Play

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With spring approaching, my two little boys have been asking questions in that never-ending style only a preschooler can master. During our last trip to the library we grabbed a stack of books to help us get ready for spring. One of the fast favorites is Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. After reading the book to the boys just once, they pulled from all our toy tubs to retell the story.

Make Way for Ducklings - Setting the Scene

Make Way For Ducklings is the 1942 Caldecott Medal Award winner for the beautiful charcoal drawings also by McCloskey. The simplicity of the drawings inspired children to use their imaginations to fill in details of the story. Doodad especially wanted to make the ducklings each a different color!

In the story Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are searching for a safe and quite place to lay their eggs and raise their ducklings. They find the public park in Boston, while being perfect for ducklings to play, is a bit too noisy for hatching eggs. Mrs. Mallard lays the eggs on an island in the nearby river instead. When the ducklings are big enough she marches them through the city to the center island of the public park.

Make Way for Ducklings - Family together in the pond

My boys are still pretty little. Magoo is 5 and Doodad is 3. At such a young age it can be difficult to develop reading comprehension skills because their language arts skills in general are still developing. I have found that any kind of hands on dramatic play creates a medium in which the boys are able to retell stories with an amazing amount of detail. For a retelling of Make Way for Ducklings, the boys picked the toys they wanted to use and build a mini-city in our basement.

Make Way for Ducklings - Finding just the right Duck

First I had the boys identify the key parts of the story that we needed to represent with toys.

We can make buildings with blocks!
We need a police car!
Get the tub of animals!

Make Way For Ducklings - The city buildings

Magoo spent over an hour building his version of Boston’s Public Park. Doodad lost interest after about 10 minutes and supervised from his perch on the couch with a stack of library books.

Make Way for Ducklings - Mom and Dad Ducks

When the city was done, Magoo used two small plastic birds as Mr. and Mrs. Mallard to fly around looking for their new home. We had quite a bit of debate regarding these two bird. I say they are swans but Magoo insisted they are just mom and dad ducks.

Make Way For Ducklings - Marching in a line

After finding a nice place to lay her eggs and raising the chicks, Mrs. Mallard leads the line of ducklings though busy downtown Boston. We only have 4 small birds that are representing the ducklings. Doodad was very concerned that we got it wrong. Several times he pointed out that we need 8 baby ducks!

Make Way For Ducklings - Using toys to retell a story

And the obligatory horse photo. Magoo loves horses and was disappointed to not find one in the book. When I was taking pictures of his city, Magoo told me his version of the story had a horse. He insisted I take pictures of it!

We had so much fun playing in our little city. I was very impressed with the details of the story that the boys retained. It is so easy to set up an open ended free play scenario with young children. Grab a few library books and a bucket of toys and get to story telling in your home!

Make Way For Duckling - Assessing Reading Comprehension Through Hands On Play

About Becky Marie

Becky Marie is a wife and stay at home mom to three little boys living in Central New York State.  Their days are filled with racecars, trains, and super heroes.  The boys learn through every day activities and play in a Montessori inspired environment. When the weather is nice you will find the whole family hiking in the nearby mountains.  After discovering a dairy allergy in her second son, Becky has developed a passion for dairy free nutrition and cooking.  She blogs about motherhood, homeschooling and homemaking at For This Season.  You can connect with her on facebook, twitter, and pinterest.

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