Little Bookworms: Encouraging Young Readers

Baby ReadingA baby mouthing a book.

Small tears in the pages of a paperback.

A caregiver reading to a child in a rocking chair before nap.

Each snippet described here tells us something about early literacy. Babies first explore texts with their senses, young children learn book handling and how to turn pages through practice, and caregivers read to children at various times of day to promote attention, rest, interest, and imagination. Each snippet also exemplifies one of the many ways children become earnest readers.

This May, we’re offering a theme titled “Little Bookworms.” During the last couple weeks of the month, children will engage in activities that highlight beloved children’s authors, talk about and read their favorite stories, and engage in other meaningful literacy activities. While all of our themes address topics of interest to children, “Little Bookworms” gets to the heart of children’s learning: the ability to read changes the world for children. When children are able to read, they can make sense of texts and experiences in nuanced and personal ways. This emphasis on personal meaning-making is just one reason why literacy is such a critical area of study in early childhood. It should be no surprise, then, that our theme books are among providers’ favorite FunShine components. Each month, Fireflies providers receive 2 monthly theme books. Buttercups providers receive 3 theme books bimonthly. While careful attention is given to all of our book choices, it was especially important that our choices for “Little Bookworms” captured what we know to be true about young children’s experiences with reading.

The Boy and the Book

The theme book for Fireflies is The Boy and the Book: [a wordless story] by David Michael Slater and illustrated by Bob Kolar (Charlesbrige, 2015). The Boy and the Book is a wordless story about a mischievous child who visits the library with his mother and routinely mishandles one particular storybook. Through observation, the reader comes to learn that the boy does not know how to read, and thus treats the book poorly. When he learns to read, however, things change—he engages with the book and is kinder to it.

We loved The Boy and the Book for many reasons. Giving a wordless story to an early learner is truly a gift because it enables them to apply their own knowledge to the story and make it come to life in a personal way. Reading a wordless book requires study and imagination as a child turns to the illustrations for clues. (Discover more about the benefits of wordless books and additional suggested titles in our blog post The Wonder of Wordless Books.) We also seized the opportunity to further integrate the story into theme activities by providing Concept Cube Cards that highlight the parts of a book featuring illustrations from the story:

As you read The Boy and the Book with children, help them make sense of the story by observing facial expressions and noticing what is happening from left to right on the page. Talk with them about it what means to be a “reader.” How do illustrations help them understand stories? How do stories make them feel? What kinds of books would they like to read? Who can help them learn how to read? Who do they know that likes to read?

Clive Is a Librarian

Buttercups providers will receive Clive Is a Librarian by Jessica Spanyol (Child’s Play, 2017) to support learning during “Little Bookworms.” It’s well known that young children act out what they’re learning in dramatic play. The main character of this board book, Clive, is doing just that by pretending to be a librarian while playing with his friends. The dramatic play in the story involves just a few common toys, placing the emphasis on how the characters interact with and handle books. In Buttercups, we sought to emphasize the connections between dramatic play and early literacy by encouraging providers to place dolls/stuffed animals in their reading areas, so children could pretend to read to them. We also recommend using Clive Is a Librarian as a resource for preparing children for a trip to the library. Such activities provide a foundation for children to make text-to-life connections.

Toddler ReadingEncouraging Young Readers

Whether the children in your care are infants, toddlers, or preschoolers, you can do simple things to support early literacy and encourage an interest in reading. Reading Rockets, a national multimedia project that offers research-based reading strategies, recommends the following tips:

  1. Talk with infants and young children before they learn to talk and read. Talking with children in short simple sentences about their routines, environment, and activities supports oral language skills needed to help them become readers (and writers).
  2. Read to and with children for at least a half hour each day. Reading with children helps them develop vocabulary and understand reading conventions such as reading words from left to right. Help children notice that words have meaning by pointing to text as you read it on the page.
  3. Introduce songs and rhymes that feature repetition. Repetition supports children in distinguishing sound patterns.
  4. Offer books for children to look at on their own regularly. Having access to books is important for developing interest in them and fostering appropriate book handling. Board and cloth books are best for children under the age of three, and paperbacks are generally well managed by preschoolers.
  5. Model good reading habits. Children learn by doing and observing the grown-ups in their lives. You can model good reading habits by making them noticeable when you are reading directions, books, maps, and recipes.
  6. Visit your local library. A visit to the library will support children in developing personal reading interests as they choose books to borrow and engage with others during storytime. If a visit to the library isn’t possible, you can always invite your librarian to visit you!

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