We tend to fondly remember our favourite books from early childhood. What is it about those books that make them unforgettable? For me, it was Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I am still unsure if it was the joy of eating through all those gorgeous, bright, appealing foods or if it was the dramatic butterfly ending that made me return to this book repeatedly. It may have simply been the clever holes that matched up on each illustration as I turned the page. Whatever it was that sparked joy for me when reading the hungry caterpillar, it was still there as I read it to my children over twenty years later.
Books are such a wonderful access point for children and stimulate learning in many different areas. Traditionally we taught a theme and pulled out the books related to that theme. Now with more child-led learning, we jump on individualized learning and then try to provide books based on a child’s personal learning preferences. This requires more books or access to more books, and this is where local libraries can be invaluable. Let’s face it, we can't always store twenty books on one topic but if a child has a particular interest, a local library will be able to provide books to stimulate further investigation and learning.
As our homes become more tech-focused and children read online more, the debate for having books is one this educator does not even consider worth having. There will always be a place for paper/card/board books, especially in daycares and schools. Digital books are a wonderful tool to increase access to reading but do not take the place of paper books. As our children move through the school system, some like to read online but many still prefer to pick up a paper book. This love for reading and choosing to read for pleasure starts at a very young age.
Children need to see language modelled and books provide the perfect example both as listeners and later as readers. Books demonstrate proper sentence structure and this provides a format for the listener to follow and sometimes repeat. Reading builds vocabulary and opportunities for learning at every new read. The discussion that happens around a book can often be as much fun as the actual book and stimulate further learning.
I remember Peter and Jane books from learning to read; Mother cooked breakfast while father sat reading the paper. Peter played with cars and Jane played with dolls. Hopefully, our books are less full of stereotypes and more open-minded now but as educators, we need to be ready to address issues that arise from book discussion. Choosing social stories that explain a situation and how characters dealt with problems can be a useful way to model positive behaviour. Some children find it easier to understand and relate to characters in a book, than direct behaviour discussion. A storyline with characters facing problems similar to what our children face every day can help to build empathy and understanding among children.
Having books as accessible as toys for young children encourages children to copy the behaviour they see modelled. As an adult, I choose the books I see selected and displayed by librarians. I know they have been highlighted because somebody loved them and this encourages me to explore what they have to offer. Having books available as part of our seasonal or thematic learning encourages children to makes links and develop further understanding. Books on engineering beside the block play area, books on how cars are made beside the car bin and cookbooks beside the kitchen play area are examples of how we can use books to complement the beautiful spaces we provide for our children.
Having dramatic play options related to books we read provides an opportunity for embedding understanding. Reading about a visit to the doctor and then role-playing with a doctor’s kit or reading about Little Red Riding Hood and then using wooden characters to retell the story allows children to explore the language in a book and use it authentically. Flannel boards are also great options for bringing the story to life. Providing these opportunities to practise using concepts and a language in a book helps to embed learning and understanding.
Sharing well-loved books are one of the many joys of teaching young children. Seeing children’s rapt faces, anticipation building and then understanding dawning after a good book, is a privilege educators all over the world understand and love.
Written by Chris, an early years teacher in Manitoba