Sharifa Johnson thinks the direction modern education has taken is putting the instruction of children in an unpleasant place.
“We are taking all the fun out of learning,’’ she said. “We are really trying to focus on test-taking and not creating thinkers.’’
That’s why she’s created a program called Books N’ Bops, which she feels will put more fun in the learning process but not overlook the importance of educating young people at the same time.
Johnson has scheduled a series of Books N’ Bops sessions at the Hope Mills Parks and Recreation Center on Rockfish Road.
The next session will be Saturday, Feb. 22, with another session scheduled Saturday, March 21.
There will be sessions for two different age groups. The first, at 9:30 a.m., will be for children ages 3-5. The second, for children ages 6-8, will be at 10:30 a.m. Each session will last 45 minutes and the cost is $10 per student.
To sign up, parents should come to the recreation center office during normal business hours.
A minimum of five students and a maximum of 15 will be allowed to take part in each class, so parents are encouraged to sign up as soon as possible to assure the class can be held.Johnson started Books N’ Bops eight months ago, drawing on her many years of experience as both an educator and a dancer.She’s been a teacher at all levels of education, from pre-kindergarten through the college years, for a total of 15 years in that role.
Her dancing career is even longer. Now 37, she got her first taste of dance when her mother took her to see "The Nutcracker" at age five. “I fell in love, so she took me to dance class,’’ Johnson said.
In the 32 years she’s been a dancer, Johnson said she’s tried just about every discipline there is. “I’ve done ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, contemporary, hip hop and African,’’ she said.
She attended North Carolina A&T in Greensboro before graduating in 2005 with degrees in English and secondary education. She returned to earn a masters degree in English and African-American literature.
Johnson sees Books N’ Bops as a way of educating the whole child, but using a simple method to do it. The lesson starts with Johnson reading the children a short book.
She and the children discuss different aspects of literature. “If it’s fiction, we talk about things that kid will still be tested on, but we do it in a really fun way,’’ she said.
After the reading and discussion are over, Johnson teaches the children an originally choreographed dance that is connected to the story they just finished.
The dance is also a way of instilling confidence in the children as they are given the opportunity to perform. Johnson said connecting the reading element with dance movements creates a long-lasting learning impression.
“You’ll remember that dance,’’ she said. “If you hear a song, you’ll remember you did that dance to that. You’ll have a connection to the book and you’ll remember what you were talking about.Because it was a fun activity and something you actually enjoyed doing, the movement helps to put it through the whole body, so the whole body understands the story.’’
One of the real strengths of Books N’ Bops, Johnson said, is she can adjust it to work with all kinds of age groups, even age groups that might be a little far apart.
“If you tell me you have a group the ages of five to 12, I can find a book that will engage everyone,’’ Johnson said.
“I’ll make the dance where it’s easy enough for the younger ones, but the older ones can enjoy it as well.’’
Johnson said she’s also working on a writing and dance program for older children.
As for deciding what book to read from, Johnson said she tries to gear it with whatever the popular curriculum is with local teachers in that age group.
“I’ve done a lot of day cares,’’ she said. “If you’re talking about dinosaurs that week, I’m going to go out and find a dinosaur book.’’
Johnson said she typically visits local libraries to choose her books, which can vary from the preferred topics of the day to classic books available for children.
“I have to think about what age group I’m talking to,’’ she said. “That also determines the length of the book I get because their attention span is different.’’
Johnson said her program is flexible and can be adapted to any setting outside of the traditional school environment that is child friendly. “I can make it come together,’’ she said. “I can be everywhere in the community.’’
In addition to doing traditional teaching settings, Johnson recently held a Books N’ Bops birthday party. She said she is also able to do church events.
To find out more about what Books N’ Bops is about, visit Johnson on her Books N’ Bops Facebook and Instagram accounts.
She can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-869-0210.
“I love teaching and I love dance and I get to share my joy,’’ Johnson said. “Whether it be a kid who finally performs or they actually get literacy concepts, the lights are going off.
“I just want everyone to love to learn and to love to read and love literacy.’’