The Why’s and How’s of Picture Books
Children benefit in a myriad of ways when parents read story books to them.
But what about picture books? Think about the ones that display the meaning of words in the form of drawings or pictures – like the one in the Practica set.
Why is a book like that valuable, how do you recognize a good one, and what can a parent practically do with one?
There are 3 important things to look for in a picture book.
1. Most importantly, go for categories.
Babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers love categories. They’re not yet ready to understand the alphabet. In other words, you need a book that shows the contents of specific rooms, things that can be associated with different seasons, animals that live in the wild, in the desert, under the sea, and so forth. Leave books that are organized alphabetically on the rack until your child is much older – at least old enough to learn to read.
2. Secondly, look for large pictures with smaller pictures in the margins.
The best kind of picture dictionary, like the one above, shows large pictures with smaller pictures arranged close by so that children can view important objects individually. And, ideally, the small pictures should be angled differently so that it’s a little more challenging to look for them in the main picture.
3. Lastly, every small picture in the margin should be clearly labelled.
Why does your child need a picture book?
1. The pictures are great conversation starters.
Talking to a child about what he sees on a page is invaluable for building vocabulary and thinking skills. And, since you can easily tailor your conversation to match your child’s level of reasoning, this kind of book can be used throughout the formative years. Researchers refer to this kind of talking-whilst-reading as “dialogical reading”. It’s big. Google it one day when you have time.
2. Finding small pictures in the big picture develops working memory.
Children aren’t born with the ability to grasp meaning, process information and manipulate ideas. It takes a lot of time and practice to develop these skills and developing them excellently takes even more time. The first step on this journey is learning to keep information in mind to work with it. That involves working memory.
Note: In the section for 2 to 6 year olds in the Practica Programme, whenever “visual memory” or “auditory memory” is listed as one of the target areas at the end of a game, that game develops this important skill.
Picture books helps to develop working memory because you can say: “Look! I see a frying pan! Can you find the frying pan in the kitchen?” Your child then needs to pay attention to what he has heard and at the same time form a visual image of the frying pan in his mind’s eye. He then needs to keep the auditory and visual information in mind for as long as it may take for him to find that frying pan.
Looking for objects in a big picture is a very basic way of developing working memory, but try playing the game with a 2 year old and you’ll be amazed at how difficult it can be for beginner thinkers to keep information in mind like that!
Note: You can make this game more challenging for older children by saying something like: “I’m thinking of something that I use when I fry an egg. Can you point it out in the margin and then find it in the big picture for me?”
3. Picture books are great for developing classification skills.
A child’s first major discovery on the path to creative thinking and analytical reasoning involves learning how objects can be the same and different in various ways and how things can be grouped together based on what they have in common.
Children need to learn a lot about things that can be found in the real, tangible world before they reach the point where they can start applying what they’ve learned about the real world of objects to the abstract world of ideas. In other words, an older child won’t be able to compare ideas on an abstract level if he didn’t learn to compare the attributes of objects when he was younger.
As parents, we need to talk to our children about how objects can be categorized in real life and in a picture book to the point where a child will be able to think about them creatively.
You want to be able to ask your 6 year old child: “Which animal doesn’t belong in this set: a cat, a dog, a fish or a lion?” and get an answer along the lines of: “Well, it could be the fish because he’s the only one that doesn’t live on land, or it could be the lion because he’s not a pet!”
That’s when you will know for sure that you’re raising a real thinker.
To summarize, picture books are valuable, but you need to understand them.
The key to getting the most out of yours is to use it in different ways, but always with 3 targets in mind: (1) building vocabulary through conversations, (2) building working memory by playing games where your child needs to keep information in mind, and (3) developing thinking and reasoning skills by discussing why certain objects may be categorized together.