Picture books are a very powerful medium for teaching children. Their effectiveness results from the way in which the illustrations, content and emotional experience of reading with someone all intertwine. Children use their world knowledge to create new schema as they use the words on the page and the colorful illustrations to connect with a large variety of topics. They learn to empathize with characters, explore a variety of vivid settings and truly understand the events and plots that are presented in the magical pages of these books. Picture books allow children to bring meaning to topics that may otherwise seem foreign or difficult to relate to.
When you think back on your childhood, you can probably remember your favorite book. Even if you cannot recall the exact title or author, you can clearly picture the illustrations or hear the soothing voice reading or rereading your favorite part. There is something so special about picture books! Each of us can probably create a list of books that we feel every child should read. What makes these memories so lasting or our reaction to a book so visceral? It is probably a combination of the components of a picture book and the strong interpersonal experiences resulting from the shared reading.
As parents, we read to our young children. We start with board books, teaching colors, animal sounds and modes of transportation. Parents continue to read with their toddlers and young children, often as part of a bedtime routine. However, as children become more independent readers and as families grow and nighttime routines become more hectic, this unique bonding opportunity can sometimes get replaced by other routines. I recommend continuing to read to your children even when they are in the higher grades. The book choice may need to evolve from picture books to chapter books, but the act of reading together will enhance your child’s emotional connection with literature and love of reading.
As educators, we sometimes take for granted how much we rely on picture books and read alouds to help deepen the students’ understanding of the world around them. You can find a picture book to enhance any topic. Although picture books are one of many tools that teachers use throughout the day, they have the potential to positively impact the students in a multitude of ways.
At BPY, read alouds are an integral part of many of our lessons. We follow the philosophy behind Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study and use the workshop method for reading and writing. When modeling and practicing specific literary skills, we use picture books as our mentor texts. Students learn how to identify and practice these literary elements within the context of a story. In the older grades, the mentor texts often include chapter books as well as picture books, but the philosophy remains the same. Once students have practiced the newly introduced skill within the context of a book, they are able to apply it on their individualized leveled texts. The picture books that we use are carefully chosen to highlight the specific skills being taught.
Picture books are also used to help students recall prior knowledge before studying a topic in depth. The stories written about the chagim or American holidays often review many of the key concepts. Once the students remember what they know, they are able to apply that knowledge on a higher level. Similarly, picture books can also be used to launch a new topic. Students are introduced to the important themes or ideas in a way that they can connect to the material. This allows all students to form a foundational understanding of what is going to be taught. Read alouds can also be used for culminating activities where students can synthesize and analyze what they have learned. In addition, a read aloud of a picture book is a powerful way to teach empathy. Students can relate to the characters and their issues and thus can problem solve in a risk-free environment. If you take an indepth look at the amount of information that is brought to life through the narratives and illustrations in a picture book, you will be in awe of the complexity and wealth of knowledge buried within the pages.
Picture books are also a great resource for creating cross-curricular connections. In math we take advantage of the vast collection of fiction stories that illustrate how math concepts are applicable to our daily lives. In science, books read in Readers Workshop may be the impetus for science experiments or topics of study. Social studies-related story books can be used to teach literary elements while reinforcing the content-based information. Picture books can also create cross-curricular connections between general studies and limudei kodesh. The possibilities and opportunities to creatively incorporate picture books are limitless and open up the world to our students.
As the teachers read to their students, they share their passion for literature and its impact on the world. We teach our students content and skills, but more importantly, we teach them how to use those skills to make a difference in the world.
Just as parents model a love of reading, so do teachers, as they guide the students through an exploration of this amazing genre. As educators, we aim to partner with parents to jointly guide our children to become lifelong readers who have a deep appreciation for the power of literature.
Mrs. Naomi Maron is general studies principal at Ben Porat Yosef (BPY).