“Read books to your children.” We hear it over and over again. Indeed, it is true that reading good books to your children gives them a notable advantage in learning to read as well as other developmental benefits.
“How do I know which books are excellent books?”
There are countless children’s picture books to choose from. While just about any book would provide some benefit, some books provide far more benefit than others. Keep reading to learn some elements to consider when looking for excellent books for your preschooler.
- Story Reading Phases
- As children grow they go through different phases of interest in and attention span for books. Every child will develop at a different rate and may go through different phases.
- Curious what this looks like? Here’s an example.
- A 0-2 month old may show absolutely zero interest in books.
- A 3-9 month old may enjoy cuddling with you while you read short rhyming picture books. They may also be fascinated by books with photos of real people.
- A 10-18 month old may not have the patience to sit for a whole story. Rather than reading the book, they may enjoy watching you point to pictures in the book while naming the picture or its sound. (“This is a cow. Cows say ‘Moo.'”)
- A 19-24 month old may be ready to sit with you while you read short stories. They may ask you to read a favourite book again and again. They most likely enjoy interactive books, such as lift-the-flap books.
- A 2-3 year old is likely ready to start enjoying books with more storyline. Interactive books are likely a big hit with this age group.
- A 4-6 year old typically is ready for somewhat longer stories. They will likely interrupt the story many times to ask questions like, “why?”.
- How do you know what story reading phase your child is in? The best clue is observation. If the book you are using, and the way you are reading it to your child is right for their phase, they will be engaged and interested.
- Note that different times of day and/or different settings will greatly affect which sort of book is right for your child. Mid-morning your child may not have any interest in books, but just before bed snuggling close while you read a story might be their favorite thing.
- Large Group or One-on-One?
- Are you reading the book to a large class full of children, or to one child who is snuggled up beside you? My time as a preschool teacher has taught me that the bigger the group and the more distracting the setting, the shorter and/or more engaging the book needs to be.
Different picture books work better for different reading phases depending on their style. Here are some elements of writing style to consider.
- How Many Words – generally, the younger the child, the smaller the word count needs to be.
- Rhyme vs. Prose – if rhyme is well done, children will be more engaged.
- Repetition and Rhythm – strategic repetition and rhythm draw a child in, making the book feel interactive. In Brown Bear Brown Bear, Bill Martin Jr makes excellent use of repetition and rhythm.
- Sing Along – some sing along books are fantastic, others are way too long for most preschoolers. Watch your child’s cues in case you need to stop halfway through.
- Story Arc – As children reach their 3rd birthday, they tend to begin preferring books with a story arc – a beginning, middle, climax, and conclusion. At first, these story arcs can be very simple, such as Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. As the child’s attention span grows, they will become interested in more and more complex story arcs.
- Illustration Style – some illustration styles mesmerize children, others simply do not. How can you tell which illustration styles your child enjoys? Observe their reactions. Remember, though, that their interest in different illustration styles can shift and change as they pass through different reading phases.
- Sense of Humor – A book that makes your child laugh will keep them more engaged. Like with everything else, what a child finds funny will shift and morph as they grow.
Choose How to Read
Some books can easily be adapted to different reading phases depending on how you read it.
- Read Text, Abbreviate the Story, Discuss Pictures, or Ask Questions
- You pick up a book to read to your child, but right away you realize it has far too many words for your child’s current reading phase. No problem. Try simplifying the story into your own words, or merely enjoy looking at the pictures with your child.
- Or perhaps you have a 4 year old, and the book you want to read is far too simple. Ask questions to make it a fun interactive book for your child.
- “Oh, look, there’s a horse and a baby horse. Do you know what a baby horse is called?”
- “I see an ice cream cone. Let’s count how many scoops of ice cream are on it. What’s your favourite type of ice cream?”
- Read It Again or Only Once
- Generally speaking, the younger the child, the more times you can repeat the same book before they get bored.
- When reading to a group of children aged 2 years old and up, I typically encourage reading a new book almost every time. This will help keep even the more advanced children interested and engaged. When children are bored because they have heard the story before, they are far more likely to cause mischief.
Aside from the educational value of reading books to your child, the books you read will begin to shape how your child thinks and responds to other people and the world around them. I encourage you to be intentional to find books that teach your child well.
- Role Models
- Preschool children absorb what they see and hear. The characters in books become role models for them to mimic. Watch carefully that the characters in the books you choose are setting good examples for your child.
- I had a 4 year old in one of my classes who used an inappropriate word. When another child declared that he shouldn’t use that word, the 4 year old shrugged, saying, “What? It’s what they say in the movies.”
- Positive vs. Negative Tone
- Similarly, some books have a positive optimistic tone while others include much whining and negative mindsets. Even as an adult, I find that when I read a book in which there is a lot of complaining, I catch myself complaining more. If this is the case with me, how much more so will this happen with our preschoolers?
- Check for Subtle Messages
- These days, many newer books include subtle messages encouraging and glorifying things such as activism, extreme environmentalism, and other current philosophies or morals.
- You as the parent or caregiver get to choose whether you want these worldviews instilled in your child or not.
- Many books have excellent educational elements so that while you are reading a fun book to your child, you are also teaching them about colours, or how plants grow, etc.
- Now that you know how to choose excellent books for your child, where are you going to look for those books? I highly recommend checking to see if there is a local library you can use. Not only will this save you the cost of buying each book, but it will also give you a nearly endless supply of new books to choose from.
- Visiting your library in person allows you to skim through the books before bringing them home. Alternatively, many libraries allow you to search online and place a hold on books that interest you. This is especially helpful if you are looking for books relating to a specific theme.
Looking for some excellent book ideas? Check out my favourites on Pinterest:
What are some of your absolute favourite excellent picture books for children? Let us know in the comments below.
What is a Transition?
In the preschool and childcare world, a transition is any time children are switching between activities. This could include moving from the classroom to a gym space or the bathroom. It could also include changing from free play to circle time or snack time. Arrival and departure times are transitions as well.
These parts of the schedule are often difficult for young children because they have to leave something they are enjoying (such as free play) or they have to wait. Waiting is hard. It is a skill for young children to learn.
So how can we make transitions smoother? Check out the tips below.
1. Give a Warning
Two minutes before you need to transition, briefly get everyone’s attention to let them know that they have only two minutes left in the current activity.
Typically this can be done for the group as a whole, but some children need to be individually told. Get down on their level, touch their hand. Make sure they’re listening when you tell them.
2. Explain What’s Next
Children don’t want to leave the fun thing they are doing, therefore, give them something to look forward to. Briefly tell them what’s next. If the next activity is not one they enjoy, mention the following thing as well. For example, “First we will go to the bathroom, then it’s gym time.”
3. Praise Good Behaviour
What can we adults do to help transitions go smoother? Do you see a child doing what you want? Let them know with a quick high five and a “Good job.”
At times we get so caught up redirecting undesired behaviour that we forget to praise the good behaviour. Not only does this lead to the children not knowing what you want them to be doing, but it also can result in even more undesired behaviour. Why? Because children need attention. When they aren’t getting attention for good behaviour, they begin to mimic the undesired behaviour because that is what gets them the attention they crave.
Sometimes, though not always, ignoring undesired behaviour while praising desired behaviour can work wonders in making transitions smoother.
4. Sing a Transition Song
Preschool age children tend to respond well to songs. Using a song to let them know it is time to transition rather than simply telling them is a long standing strategy that works.
The classic example of this is the Cleanup Song.
Other transition specific songs can include:
- Line up songs
- Stand up songs
- Sit down songs
5. Sing General Preschool Songs
If your transition includes waiting or lining up and walking to a different room, singing regular preschool songs can be a huge help in keeping the children focused and in line.
These songs could include:
6. Assign a Job
Some children respond well to responsibility. It makes them feel important. Therefore, give them a task to do.
When walking in a line-up, tasks could include:
- Leader of the line
- Caboose of the line (their job is to make sure no one gets left behind)
- Hold a younger child’s hand
- Carry something for you
When cleaning up, tasks could include:
- Look around for any pieces of toy food that need to go back to the kitchen
- Hold the bucket so the other children can put toys in
- Clean up a certain area of the room
7. Play a Game
When waiting, simple games can help everyone have a better day, even the teachers. Some of these can be done while walking as well.
Try one of these games:
- I spy
- Find the Body Parts (pat your head, etc.)
- Pretend to be… (can you walk like a giraffe?)
- Stretch (copy me while I touch my toes)
As you are transitioning, don’t forget to smile. If you are uptight and irritable, the children will sense it. If you are smiling, everyone will enjoy the experience better.
I hope these eight tips help make your transitions smoother. What are your favourite transition strategies for preschoolers, toddlers, or other young children?
Circle time. That point when the entire class gathers around the teacher for songs, stories, and activities.
This can be a tricky part of the day for the teacher, as the children wiggle and get distracted by their friends. Different seating arrangements can help eliminate certain distractions. Also, different seating arrangements work better in different environments and with different budgets. Here are some pros and cons of 5 unique types of storytime seating for preschoolers that I’ve used.
Note: the images included are for your reference. They do not indicate any partnership with or recommendation for those specific carpets and/or companies. The links are not affiliate links.
1. Small carpet (with no individual spots)
- This could be any rug you have around that is big enough for all the children to sit on. I have seen blankets or bamboo mats used as well.
- Use what you have, rather than buying a new expensive rug
- Can fit a large number of children on a smaller space since there aren’t individual spots to sit on
- Gives the children a defined area to sit during storytime
- Beware, rugs with very colourful designs can make it hard to spot toys, thus making clean up difficult and stepping on toys more likely
- Children may jostle for position and argue since there are no boundaries providing needed personal space
- Children are likely to crowd into multiple rows causing added distraction
- Children have a hard time seeing what the teacher is holding since they are not arranged well
2. Carpet with multiple rows of individual seating spots
- These carpets can be square or designed to fit into a corner like a slice of pizza. Often, if all the spots are filled, you will end up with three rows of children directly behind each other.
- Typically specifically designed for school type settings
- Often high-quality carpets that will last several years
- Often include an educational element such as shapes, or numbers
- Children have specified spots to sit on with the goal of having the seating well-spaced – not too close and not too far
- Multiple sizes designed for different numbers of children are available
- Often expensive
- May be hard to clean
- Can cause difficulties with children kicking those in the row in front of them
- Back row of children often are not as attentive to the teacher
3. Large oval or rectangular rug (with seating spots)
- These are very standard storytime seating for preschools to have. There are many different designs from letters to woodland animals and more.
- No back row of children meaning the teacher can see all the children and the children are not distracted the same way as those with multiple rows
- Many beautiful designs to choose from, including educational themes
- Are large enough to accommodate many children
- Individual spots on the rug for children to sit on
- Typically specifically designed for school type settings
- Often high-quality carpets that will last several years
- Your classroom must have a large open space to set this rug
- Difficult to find a place for the teacher to sit where all the children can see (some may be behind another child along the side)
- Depending on where the teacher sits, some children will be sitting a considerable distance from the teacher making it difficult to see what the teacher is holding, or for the teacher to hear the child talking
- Most are very heavy if you have to move them
- Can be difficult to clean
- Typically expensive
4. Individual story spots or carpets
- Story spots come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colours. They may be individual sized squares of carpet, or circle shaped cushions. They could even be laminated pieces of paper. The thing that makes them all fit in the same category is that they are one spot per child and that they are movable.
- Spots can be rearranged to whatever shape fits your space.
- Can be stacked on the shelf during playtime allowing more space for toys
- Might be machine washable
- You choose how many to use rather than always having 12 spots if you only have 10 children.
- Spots are not secured to the floor allowing children to move them around which can be distracting
- Creates an extra task for the teacher (or children) to set them up and put them away every day
- If used on hard floor, the spots may be slippery if stepped on
- Can be expensive
- Rather than buying a rug, take a roll of masking tape and put it on the floor in a large “u” or semi-circle around the teacher’s chair. The children will sit on the tape. (Alternatively cut pieces of paper and use clear tape to secure them to the floor)
- Can be placed in any shape, according to your needs
- Can adjust length of tape to accommodate any size of class
- Children do not argue over getting their favourite colour or letter
- No second row (unless you want to make one)
- No heavy rug or stack of story spots to deal with
- Children may pick at the tape and pull it off
- Lack of individual spots means the children sometimes sit too close to each other causing irritation
- Leaving the tape down for several weeks, or during deep cleaning, may leave lines on the floor
- Tape will need to be replaced from time to time as it wears out or the children pull it off
- Not ideal on hard floor as it does not protect children from hard surfaces or cold floors
That’s a long list of pros and cons to consider. If you were to ask me which storytime seating for preschoolers I prefer, I would likely say using tape is my preference. However, this, of course, depends on the program and the space available.
What is your preferred storytime seating for preschoolers? Can you think of pros or cons I didn’t include in this post?