Some parents will buy their children everything imaginable in order to get them to read, they will enrol them in the most expensive kindergarten programs and they will sometimes even skip picture books for children, going straight to more text-heavy chapter books. These sorts of practices could actually be counterproductive and affect your child’s development. Here are just some of the reasons that these books play such an important role in development:
• Chapter books are not necessarily more complex than picture ones – in fact, their sentence structure and vocabulary can often be considered simplistic when compared with older level stories. Many are also written at a higher reading level these days, offering interesting plots and amazingly complex vocabularies.
• The illustrations help children to understand what they’re reading and allow them to analyse the story. When children are having difficulties with particular words, the illustrations can help them to figure it out. The illustrations can also be beneficial for helping those learning English to comprehend the story.
• Children love art – why do you think they spend so much time colouring, drawing and doing crafts? Whatever the reason that children are drawn towards a book, it’s a means to get them to read and should be encouraged at all costs.
• Picture books allow children to practice the sounds of language – as parents, it is our responsibility to introduce new and interesting words whenever possible. The rhythm and rhyme in many stories is great for reading aloud, and children will actually learn more easily when they hear words spoken aloud often.
• The repetition in many books also allows children to participate in the story. They often get excited when they can anticipate an impending line, which can help them to learn skills like phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension and fluency.
• These books are multi-sensory, which aids in a child’s growing mind and helps to stimulate their imagination. Not only do children hear the story, they see the illustrations as well as smell and touch the pages (some will even taste the pages if given half a chance!).
• Picture books can be a useful tool for teaching children about the concept of cause and effect. Before reading the story, tell your child to listen for key words (such as because, so, if, then, etc) – these types of words can usually be found in a story that has a cause and effect relationship.
• These books help to develop story sense. Children learn the difference between the beginning, the middle and the end of a story, and can often relate to the age-appropriate issues and conflicts that are presented. Be sure to discuss these with your child.
• These books allow for an entirely different, more interactive dialogue between a parent and their child. You can spend time talking about the story, pictures and words that you see on each page. This sort of interaction helps to build reading comprehension. Ask about what happened, about the characters and the events.
• Above all else, these books are fun. The key is to always make the reading experience fun and a time to look forward to – reading should never be perceived as a chore. Children who don’t naturally progress from picture stories to chapter ones may translate reading as work (which isn’t much fun).This is how children grow to resent reading.
It’s unfortunate that some parents are still pushing their children past picture books and that others still turn their noses up at graphic novels and magazines. At the end of the day, it’s important to encourage your children to get their hands on anything that they want to read – including books, comics like zap comics and so on. It really doesn’t matter what they read as long as they learn to love reading – these are the children that will grow up to be good readers.