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How Children's Books Facilitate Reading Development

Instructor: Sharon Linde
When learning to read, it's important for children to, well, read. Sounds simple, right? Not so fast. The right book can make all the difference between a positive and frustrating experience. This lesson outlines how books help children learn to read and offers a guide to finding that perfect text.

The Role of Books in Reading

It seems pretty simple that children need books to learn to read. Not too long ago, teaching reading was mostly done without books. How did that work? Teachers and parents relied on tools such as flash cards, word lists and phonics workbooks to instruct. They thought that children first needed to know and understand the relationship between speech and letters, learn the basic sight words then move onto 'real' reading.

Luckily the pendulum has swung the other way. Teachers now understand that while children do indeed need direct instruction and a deep understanding of sound/symbol relationships, they also thrive as readers when they are given real books to read. Young, emergent readers rely on more than the words on the page to read a story, like pictures and page layout. In fact, using these other strategies to read are natural methods we all use to comprehend.

Ms. Thorn is an old-school teacher. Her new principal is requiring her to let go of some of her outdated methods and incorporate more books into her classroom. Ms. Thorn is reluctant, so the principal sends in Ms. Smith, the instructional coach, to help explain how children's books facilitate reading development in her little learners.

Children's Books & Reading Development

Ms. Smith starts off by reaffirming the importance of teaching phonics to support reading development. Students need to be able to decode, or sound out a word on the page. Without a solid and complete understanding of how letters and sounds work, children are much less likely to be successful readers. Ms. Thorn is definitely on the right track with her phonics instruction.

Ms. Smith goes on to tell Ms. Thorn about the importance of blending in children's books with her phonics program by telling her:

  • Reading isn't simply a skill. Hearing, telling and reading stories are ingrained into us as human beings. Children are drawn to stories and books because of their natural love of storytelling. Allowing children to read books builds and reinforces this passion instead of giving the impression that reading is something unrelated to storytelling.
  • Even before children can read words they're using important skills to comprehend. Even very young children can look at a picture and infer the meaning underneath. They begin to look at pictures in books individually, not associating them with the story. Soon, they'll begin to make sense of the progression of pictures, noticing how they change and evolve to tell the story. This early literacy skill of recognizing the progression of plot is laying the foundation for understanding the mechanics of how stories work.
  • Reading to and with children develops their listening and language skills. Even before children are able to piece together the words or pictures on the page, the fact that they're listening to a story is creating an important skill - language development. Exposure to a variety of language sources increases the working vocabulary in children, which makes them better able to recognize and read words later on.

Ms. Smith has shown Ms. Thorn how children's books help students connect phonics and stories, strengthen their comprehension skills and increase their listening and vocabulary. What kinds of books should Ms. Thorn bring into her classroom and recommend to parents?

Selecting Appropriate Books

Children are drawn to books for a variety of reasons. Some children choose books because the text and illustrations are bright and inviting; some have a favorite author or character; others want books that make them feel more grown up. It's important that children be guided towards reading books that are on their reading level, at least part of the time. A reading level can be described as the level that isn't so difficult that it frustrates the student, yet it shouldn't be too easy. We call this sweet spot the zone of proximal development - the space between too comfortable and too frustrating that is ripe for new learning.

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