NDSU Extension - Sargent County


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Tap Into the Potential of Children’s Books

Tap Into the Potential of Children’s BooksReading a story can be more than an isolated event with a limited effect on children. Instead, books can be educational tools that form a foundation for learning that parents can build on over time. At the heart of this strategy is the purposeful selection of books and the use of conversation, discussion and family activities to reinforce book themes.

Because there are so many good books and stories out there, it’s a daunting task to find the ones that will be the most useful and effective in addressing themes related to social-emotional needs and experiences, family dynamics and family relationships. 

Enter the “Once Upon a Mind” handbook.  Subtitled “Using Children’s Books to Nurture Self-discovery,” the handbook provides guidelines for choosing and reading books, a step-by-step sequence for introducing them to children, and useful background information for 81 recommended titles for children ages three to eight years old.  It can be a valuable resource for strengthening your relationship with your children while helping them better understand themselves and others.  The handbook is an older publication of North Central Regional Extension.

With similar goals, the Family Connections Program at Boston Children’s Hospital developed “Tell Me a Story” resources that are currently being used in some Headstart programs as well as in the Healthy Families New York program.  That program uses children’s stories to help children and their families explore important topics such as managing strong emotions, dealing with feelings of grief, or working on social skills. 

Talking about feelings by using children’s books creates a safe and supportive environment for children. Parents can support their child’s mental health and well-being while they have fun reading books together. Five specific strategies are:

  • Read the story using expressive voice(s) to convey the emotions of the characters in the story. If the story has a repetitive line, pause to allow or encourage your child to chime in with that line throughout the story.
  • Discuss the story as it unfolds, rather than waiting until the end.  Ask questions and draw attention to the pictures and the way a character is feeling and the way a character expresses these feelings. For example: “He looks sad to me. What do you think?” “To me, her face seems angry because of the way her eyebrows are bunched up.” Some children may see a direct link between their feelings and the story and they may volunteer what they think. Others may need the parent to be more concrete and ask more specific questions.
  • Focus on feelings AND what the character did about those feelings. This helps children think not only about how they feel, but also about how to express it.
  • Some children may not want to talk. Not every child will want to talk about the book or their feelings. Some may need to think about the story and hear it more than once before commenting on it.
  • Listen and reflect. A parent’s actions provide a powerful example for their child. Be aware of how you model respectful communication and expression by helping your child feel good about their reaction to the story.

SOURCES:  Healthy Families New York, The Link , Winter 2020; HeadStart – Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center, Mental Health; and Boston Children’s Hospital Family Connections Program.

Photo Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/baby-kid-child-boy-reading-book-2598005/ (downloaded 2/16/2021)

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