Social & Emotional Benefits of Children's Literature

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine the relationship between social and emotional development and children's literature. The development of empathy and cultural awareness will be explored, as well as the use of bibliotherapy for emotional healing.

Social and Emotional Development

It is common knowledge that reading is a great way to develop great readers and acquire cognitive skills across all disciplines, but what else can it do? Did you know that there are also social and emotional benefits to reading? Let's find out more.

Children's Literature and Social Development

As teachers, we look for ways to meet not only our student's academic needs, but also to help them develop socially. Children's literature can help. For example, literature can be used to help students empathize with others and make friends.

What is empathy and why does it matter? Empathy is the ability to feel compassion for another person. Empathy is a difficult concept for children, who are egocentric by nature. However, exposing children to books that help them to feel things from another person's perspective can teach them to react with kindness towards other people.

One piece of children's literature that exemplifies empathy and friendship is Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. This book tells the story of an unlikely friendship between Charlotte, a bloodthirsty spider, and Wilbur, a pig who is terrified of being slaughtered. Wilbur learns that Charlotte is a good soul, even though she kills insects, as Charlotte spends her time and creativity finding ways to save her friend's life. Through this story, students learn that even if other people think, feel, or act in ways that are different from us, they can still be good.

Children's Literature and Social Issues

Social issues are societal problems that we all face and are responsible for changing. Each of us tends to feel more comfortable with people who are like us, while feeling fear for people who are different. Children's literacy can be used to show students that diversity should be celebrated, rather than feared.

How can we keep racism from creeping into the next generation? Kadir Nelson wrote several books about racial tension including I Have a Dream, which can introduce students to the history of racial discrimination in America and encourage conversations about equality.

Another book that can teach children about social issues is Wonder by R.J. Palacio. This is the story of ten-year-old August, who was born with a deformity that makes him look different from other children his age. As he begins public school for the first time as a fifth grader, he struggles with acceptance issues. Through this story, students can learn to be compassionate towards others with birth defects, injuries, or handicapping conditions that are potentially isolating.

Children's literature can also expose students to a variety of cultures. For example, What Can You Do with a Rebozo? by Carmen Tafolla is an introduction into Mexican culture. A rebozo is a traditional Mexican shawl that is used as a baby sling, a blanket fort, and a hair tie, among other things. This story even combines English with Spanish text. Exposure to other cultures through books such as this one can help combat fear, which can lead to hatred of the unknown.

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