Teaching Kids: Letting books send the message

Posted by Big Universe on Feb 18, 2013 6:10:59 AM

As a Mom, I feel like the most over-used word in my vocabulary is "No" -- followed closely by "Don't." I get tired of hearing myself say them, so I can imagine how weary my daughter is of listening to them. I'm sure its true for teachers, too.

Our job as parents and educators is to guide our children and help them make good choices. There is no way to eliminate "no" and "don't" from our vocabulary, but it would be nice not to hear them so often. It would be nice to have an assistant to help with the teaching. That's where books -- especially picture books -- come in handy.
There is no shortage of children's picture books with stories whose intended purposes are to teach a specific lesson, whether it is the ABCs of friendship or the XYZs of potty training. There is a book for just about anything we want to help a young child understand. The hard part is finding a book that gets the message across without beating the theme to death.
No davidIn books like No, David! By David Shannon and No Biting! By Karen Katz -- both personal favorites -- the lessons and expected behaviors are explicit.
Sometimes, though, it's better to let the kids glean the lessons from the story and/or its illustrations. What's With This Room? by Tom Lichtenheld is another example of the kind of book helps children learn by observing the wrong way to do things. How can this help the "no"-weary parent or teacher?
  • You aren't the one saying "No." Even though [name your character] says the exact same thing you do about being sloppy, kids will believe him or her first.
  • The kids don't hear "No." The listener or young reader is looking at what happens and thinking about what's going on. They are exploring the story by anticipating events or their consequences.
  • Laughter can lighten the mood. Most of the time, these stories the events and consequences are exaggerated to make sure the lessons aren't missed.

Last but not least ... the kids feel superior to the character! That little ego boost might just help their self-esteem and confidence enough to "act on" the message. The other plus is that they empathize with the characters and can suggest ways to make things better.

Often kids see themselves in the book character, but they don't see themselves AS the book character. Because you are talking about a "third person," you've eliminated the pressure your students may feel about the topic at hand.
In the child's mind, you've separated the behavior from him or her, so he or she might be more interested in talking about choices and consequences.
Children's book illustrators are an incredibly talented bunch. They often have secondary activities that aren't directly related to the text in their illustrations. We have found stories that are just fun to read that have no specific lesson at all, but which end up being stories where we can talk about behaviors.
For example, several years ago while I was reading the words about spending the day at the beach, my five-year-old was dissecting the illustration, talking about the child pouring sand over another child's head. I hadn't picked the book for "teaching," but a lesson was hiding in plain view ... and I wasn't the one who pointed out what was "wrong."
Do you have any favorite life lesson books that you'd recommend to other teachers and parents?

Topics: Personal Experiences

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