5 top tips for sharing picture books with your kids

The tips and techniques listed here are taken from a proven approach called “dialogic book-sharing”.
The tips and techniques listed here are taken from a proven approach called “dialogic book-sharing”.

"Bath, bottle, book, bed."

That was my mantra when my kids were younger. Our end of day routine helped calm my excited toddler down and allowed me to stay focused in the final exhausted hours of my parenting day.

The 'book' part was always my favourite. It’s a time to cuddle, a time to bond, a time to share the special stories that I loved in my childhood and that my children still love today.

Little did I know how beneficial this simple activity was for my children’s development!

It turns out that the time you spend sharing a picture book with your young child (whether at bedtime or during the day) can massively boost their language, cognitive, social and emotional development, particularly if you follow a few simple guidelines.

Tips to stimulate development

The trick is to engage your child in dynamic interaction about the pictures in the book. Don’t worry too much about the text.

In fact, if you can find books that don’t have any text, give these a try. You’ll be amazed at how much more you can engage your child when there is no text to prescribe the narrative and pace of the book.

Here are some simple techniques to help you get the most out of sharing a book:

Find beautiful local stories to read at Parent24 Storytime

Follow your child's interest

Let your child lead the book-sharing activity by letting them hold the book and turn the pages when they are ready.

Allowing your child to take the lead will ensure they stay engaged and become more actively involved in the experience, instead of being a passive observer.

Always be positive

We want story time to be a positive experience for children.

Partly because we want to stimulate a love of books that will last forever, but also because research shows that young children develop better in the context of a loving and nurturing relationship.

So, never say 'No' or 'That’s not right' during book-sharing. Instead, encourage your child, try to see what they see, and lead them to a more accurate answer.

'Yes, that does look a bit like a grape. Or maybe it could be a blueberry?' Is one example of what this would sound like. 

Ask questions

Research shows that the more back and forth conversation there is between you and your child, the greater the developmental benefits will be.

Asking questions is an excellent way to encourage these 'conversational turns'.

Try to avoid questions that can be answered with 'yes' or 'no'. Instead, ask: who, what, where, when and why.

Even if your child is very young and doesn’t know many words, you can ask questions to give them a chance to point or babble a response.

Explore feelings

Picture books can also help children learn about emotions.

For example, they allow children to build their emotional vocabulary and explore feelings in a safe space.

Point out character’s facial expressions and ask questions about what the character may be feeling and why. Encourage the child to link this back to their own experience as well. "Do your remember when you felt sad?" Is one way to do this. 

Link the picture to your child's life

In fact, try to link everything back to your child’s own experience.

The more the child can relate to the book, the more engaged they will be, and the more they will learn.

Books that reflect your child’s context and experience are particularly valuable (but not always easy to find).

Your local librarian may be able to help you find some local books that are easier for a South African child to connect to.

Find beautiful local stories to read in Parent24's Storytime hub

Proven benefits of book-sharing

The tips and techniques listed here are taken from a proven approach called dialogic book-sharing.

Local and international research has repeatedly shown that book-sharing is an excellent tool for boosting young children’s development.

This simple and inexpensive approach is appropriate for children between the ages of 1 and 6, and can be done by caregivers with any level of literacy, in any language.

While it’s fairly easy to pick up some of the techniques, the approach works best when parents are actually trained in book-sharing.

Research conducted in Khayelitsha found that mothers who’d been through eight sessions of book-sharing training were more sensitive and attentive to their babies while sharing books and playing with toys.

For more about book-sharing, training programmes and to access local wordless picture books visit: mikhulutrust.org.

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