One of the most powerful gifts you can give the children in your care is the gift of reading aloud. Children who are read to each day develop important pre-literacy skills like knowing how to hold a book, knowing how to flip pages, and learning the direction that we read the words (from left to right or from right to left, depending on the book’s language). Reading aloud also instills in children an early love of reading, which sets them on a pathway to independence and academic success. Choosing great books to engage children in the reading process is a critical aspect of literacy education!
We’re going to be starting a series of our favorite books for children, but first, we wanted to talk about our criteria for choosing an excellent book for children. This information comes from our Administrative Assistant, Lindsay Gossett, who was an early childhood educator for six years before joining the Nanny Authority and holds a degree in Child & Family Studies (with a concentration in child development & coursework in literacy) from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
“There are a few criteria that I have always used when choosing books for my early childhood classrooms. These are inspired by Montessori and Reggio Emilia pedagogy, along with my personal experience with what babies, toddlers, and early elementary children are engaged by and love to read!
First, my preference for very young children is reality-based books. Fantasy and fairy-tales are excellent additions to your child’s bookshelf, but they also need ample opportunity to learn and understand the real world around them. Have you ever told a joke to your toddler and they simply haven’t understood why it’s funny? Jokes, fantasy worlds, and fairy tales often have power because they contradict some aspects of our everyday life. When an older child sees an image of Jack climbing the beanstalk up to the giant’s house, she thinks, “Wow, beanstalks are usually very small! This must be an unusual beanstalk! And people don’t live up in the sky – what a remarkable giant this must be!” When a toddler sees the same image, they don’t recognize that it is a fantastical story or that there is anything humorous or interesting about the circumstance Jack finds himself in. They take what they are presented with as fact, so we must introduce them to many real-life stories!
Second, it is my priority to introduce children to beautiful language and beautiful art. When reading aloud, the words in a book should have a rhythm and a diverse vocabulary. While “Biscuit” or “See Spot Run” are excellent books for beginning readers due to their simple vocabulary and short words, the exact opposite should be our priority when reading to very young children! Their brains are in a sensitive period for language development, and they are yearning for fun new words with interesting meanings, for rhythmic song-like language, and for stories with gorgeous pictures that they can study for a long time without getting bored.
Finally, let’s talk about the physical types of books we are choosing for our homes and classrooms. While it is tempting to choose only board books, or tear-proof books, or waterproof books due to the (reasonable) fear of books getting destroyed, those will ultimately teach children that there is no reason to be careful with books, which will lead to many more destroyed library books and whichever “special books” you may decide to buy in paper over the years. The more we introduce our children to delicate materials like paper, the more careful they will learn to be with them! Of course, for a baby who is exploring books independently, board books are very appropriate – they can gnaw on them, flip the thick pages with their own hands, and grasp it. Once your child has fine motor control, though, begin introducing paper books and teaching the rules that go along with them. “Books are for reading! If you’d like to tear paper, you can use a paper towel.” Or, “We are gentle with books! When you are rough with books, it takes a lot of time to fix them. We are always very gentle with books.”
For nannies visiting the library or bookstore, aunties picking out birthday presents, or parents curating your child’s bookshelf, I hope this advice will be helpful!”
Thank you, Lindsay! We are so excited to help you with choosing great books for children in our upcoming blog posts!