Kindergarteners love picture books. I teach Kindergarten at an independent school in Northeast Ohio, called, Heritage Classical Academy. To the classical mind, all knowledge is interrelated. At this age, children love to learn plain facts, even though they don’t yet know the implications of them or all about them. They are at a physiological stage of life when they love repeating jingles and memorizing things, “rejoicing in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables”, states Dorothy Sayers, mother of modern classical Christian education. Classical education is language-focused, requiring the brain to work harder than simply pacifying children with images on a screen.
We know that research on reading picture books has been found to improve children’s vocabulary and language development, noting that the quality of the book reading is just as important as how often books are read to children. We as parents and educators should involve little listeners by asking questions as we read, rather than allowing children to be pampered into passivity. The repetition of rhyming picture books, with their often recurring words or sentences, can have substantial impact on speech development as well. As children hear and anticipate those recurring words or sentences, they begin to participate in the reading or retelling of the story (even if the text has been memorized) which empowers great confidence.
At the Kindergarten level, we begin the school year reviewing and repeating the alphabet, learning letter sounds. Future phonics lessons are a joy to students in the classroom as they learn rhyming families of words. The “at” family is introduced with their cat that sat on a mat, looking at a fat rat holding a bat. My students also recognize rhymes as they learn short vowel sounds within words that rhyme with the pictures in their phonics book. They especially enjoy the lessons with 4 story lines, reading for understanding, to discover which line matches the illustration on the page. The lines that do not match the picture are a source of delightful giggling.
The Dutch believe that children should start learning mathematics by using something that is familiar and makes sense to them. This approach to mathematics views maths as a part of everyday life which can be a major part of a picture book story, not just the nonfiction books aimed at teaching maths. Psychology Today reported that “simple storybooks have the power to teach children new words, actions, and even more complex scientific concepts like camouflage… Note that these books were all designed to read like storybooks – not like educational books that children get in school – yet children still learned from them.”
Picture books are often funny, which adds to their charm, and help children to develop a sense of humor. In the classroom, I read several books each week, from classic, Caldecott winning picture books to well-researched, educational resources. My 14 students collectively seem to want a nap when the educational books are presented, no matter how enthusiastically I read and engage them with Socratic-style questions. They sit with empty, expressionless eyes when presented with a contemporary picture book promoting a particular platform or political agenda that is a passion of an adult author. Kindergarteners are FUN-loving and fueled by facts.
Picture Book Adventurers, let me challenge you to partner with your local Kindergarten classes – volunteering in the classroom to observe, reading after school with little learners, or listening to teachers’ funny stories about their students.
Picture books form the foundations of future learning and fan the flames of articulate, winsome, and wise world leaders. That is why Plato effectively stated, “Give me a child up to age 7 and I’ll form them into whatever you like.”