Through books, a child is taken from the confines of their reading area and into the world of a writer’s imagination. They can walk through a land far away, fly through a cloudy sky, or experience life that is different from their own. I have often written that we read as an escape from our ordinary lives. But for a moment I want to revisit one of readings fundamental aspects; reading is a teaching tool. And for children’s reading, the teaching is often under the surface or in the background. Without a child realizing it, they are learning.
How to Do Things
Reading can be a great way for our children to learn things. Or at the least, it can give them a springboard to ask questions about learning to do things. Through a character they read about, a child is introduced to the experiences and abilities in which they may have an interest. The day to day lives of a storybook character can cause a young reader to want to live that life. So, they try to act out what they read. Through this process, they learn valuable lessons about what they can do, and what they cannot do; at least yet.
Books like Harold and the Purple Crayon give a child an eager anticipation to draw. Unfortunately, your hallway may need to be wiped down a few times before they learn drawing goes on paper. This eagerness to experiment can lead into bigger things like in All By Myself. The main character of this story is learning about growing up. It’s about his adventure of trying to brush his hair and pour a glass of juice on his own.
Growing up is going to happen, and reading is a great avenue for children to explore and ask questions about life in general. When they see characters doing things that they haven’t learned yet, it gives them a desire to attempt to do those things. And the opportunity for us to guide them in doing them properly.
How to Interact with Others
This attitude of curiosity is not only applicable to trying new things; it can attribute to a child’s behavior. If a character in a story is using good manners, then those behaviors can be picked up by a young reader. You as a parent can also use that character’s actions to bring about a change of behavior in a child, especially when the child admires the character. For instance, Olivia is very respectful in how she communicates with adults. She is also friendly with others and likes to share. These examples can be pointed out to your child to emulate, which will help them as they get older and move into the schooling years and have to deal with other people.
Interaction with others is one of the most significant issues when it comes to making the transition from being at home all day and starting school. Stories about sharing and helping others can help that awkward transition a bit easier. There are many children’s books out there that tackle the first day of school and all the emotions that surround it; the anxiety of meeting new people, fear of not being liked, the sadness of being away from a parent, and the nervousness of having to learn. Reading a good book can prepare a child for human interaction outside of the family circle they have grown accustomed to.
How to View the World
It is all about perspective. Books give a glimpse into a character’s life. We are introduced to someone and given their characteristics. Those details can tell us about how they view the world around them. Books will often take a character through a series of events that will cause a change in the character that will affect their worldview. Often it is from a negative outlook of life to a positive view through a certain event that occurs. An unhappy character finds joy. A mean character finds the ability to be nice.
Bullying is a terrible thing for a child to face. Especially at a young age. But it is inevitable, at some point your child will face a bullying situation. The question is, what side will the child be on? Will they be the one who is being bullied, a witness to someone being pushed around and made fun of, or will they be the instigator? In each instance, believe it or not, reading can teach a child how to deal with these situations. Again, there are a plethora of children’s books that deal with this subject and how to handle it. Allow a child to be prepared by reading some of them.
How to View Themselves
How a child views the world and how they see themselves often go hand in hand. A child with a poor worldview can often feel isolated and afraid. A positive view of the external can leave their head lifted high and more confident about themselves. However, a personal view goes beyond the covers of a book. If a child’s self-esteem is crushed by a parent or someone close to them, then no book in print can overcome such obstacles. But that is another blog entirely. Just understand that in a positive environment, a good book will reinforce positive teaching.
Stories like The Ugly Duckling and The Ugly Five all teach about uniqueness and loving yourself for who you are. Tacky the Penguin and Giraffes Can’t Dance show a child they can be who they are in spite of what others say; that being different has its advantages. Through a book, a child can learn that it’s okay to be smart, silly, or own an imaginary dragon. They can see a variety of characters with what some would see as disadvantages and how they view themselves in a positive light.
We have used the example of The Little Engine that Could before. After other engines find excuses for not wanting to pull a load of toys up a difficult hill, one small engine takes on the challenge. She believed that even though she was small that she could do what she sets her heart out to do. That confidence allows her to succeed at the immense task in front of her. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can… I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could.” Stories like this, with proper adult guidance, will challenge a child into believing they can do anything if they have the determination to do it.
As a child travels through the adventures of a book, lessons are learned. Every book has a premise or an expected outcome after reading it. Teaching a child about making friends, tying one’s shoes, and believing they can be whatever they choose to be, are important life lessons in their progression to becoming an adult. It is a great thing that literature helps reinforce the lessons we are verbally teaching our children. We can use the stories our kids read as examples of good behavior and the consequences of poor decisions. As you open the pages of the story you read to your child tonight, or the book they read to you, ask yourself, “What is the lesson this book is teaching, and how can I use it to help my child grow?”