Category archives: books for children and young people

Thursday, 4 February 2021

The value of books and reading for children’s mental health

children's mental health weekIt’s Children’s Mental Health Week. Sadly the impact of Covid has made the week more vital than ever before. It feels appropriate to explore the benefits books and reading can offer.

There is a proven correlation between reading, mental health and wellbeing. Here are some key research findings:

Books and reading can help children feel good about themselves. The finding that they can reduce stress is so pertinent right now. These views come from children of 7, 9, 12, and 15 years of age:

I love reading books. They cheer me up.

I read sometimes to get out of the real world or if I am unhappy.

I like reading books a lot. I can get away from reality for a while and enjoy myself.

Reading takes you away from real life for a bit. I just love it.

A survey carried out in the first lockdown found that audiobooks also support children’s wellbeing.

Books help children realise that they are not alone. These words from Frank Cottrell Boyce very much resonate with me:

A book is not a learning resource. It’s the knife that picks the lock of your isolation.

I concur with this too, from Emily Drabble of Booktrust:

Story characters can be models for your child, which can help foster coping skills and build confidence.

Children’s author Tom Perceval says this:

It’s important for children, and their parents, to be offered books that might help them navigate their emotional journeys.

I agree. Books are powerhouses of emotional support. They build resilience too.

I mentioned research about reading and empathy. Empathy impacts on well-being, and reading is a great way to strengthen it. Here is Malorie Blackman:

Books allow you to see the world through the eyes of others. Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.

This reflection comes from a child in year 5:

When I feel empathy in stories, I slow down; sometimes I stop and think so much more.

Books and reading develop children’s (and adults’) understanding of themselves, of others and of the world. Children’s author and ex-headteacher Bernard Ashley makes this point:

Books can answer questions we do not know we’re asking.

Books can challenge attitudes and change views. Author SF Said says this:

Children’s books can be bridges connecting people, showing them that however different someone else might be, the things which unite us are greater than those which divide us. And that difference can be a source of richness: something to be celebrated, not feared.

My final quote is from a child in key stage 2, in a review of Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy:

This book has inspired me to follow my dreams.

There is no doubt that books and reading aid children’s mental health. I will blog soon on the sorts of books that can make a difference to their wellbeing, and effective ways to use them. Meantime, I recommend these links, the last three particularly for school librarians:

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

The value of picture and story books for developing mathematical understanding and progress in the early years and key stage 1

IMG_5680These much-loved picture books first and foremost deliver joy of reading. And they do very much more besides, not least helping young children absorb concepts, including mathematical ones. They are just two out of hundreds of books I could have chosen that make notions like number, shape and size interesting, engaging, relatable and understandable.

This aspect of numerous picture and story books is surely the reason why study after study links books with mathematical progress. Decades ago Research into Bookstart, the book-gifting scheme, showed that when the first cohort of Bookstart children reached school age they were outperforming their peers, not only in language-based subjects, but also in mathematics, and that they stayed ahead as they got older. (We also know that reading for pleasure continues to aid mathematical progress in key stages 3 and 4.)

Late last year the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) produced a report on improving mathematics in early years and key stage 1. This is not something I would normally blog about, but it caught my eye because of its finding on the value and importance of using books to support mathematical teaching and learning: ‘The use of storybooks in mathematical teaching can have a large impact on young children’s attainment in this subject.’

Specific guidance includes this: ‘Mathematics can be explored through different contexts, including books, puzzles, songs, rhymes, puppet play and games. Using storybooks to teach mathematics can be particularly effective, through providing an opportunity for mathematical talk and questioning. Much of this evidence comes from studies where practitioners were explicitly supported in promoting mathematical discussion from the story, for example, by being provided with notecards displaying prompting questions and discussion points that they could use. Practitioners should therefore plan how they will use storybook resources to discuss mathematical concepts.’

The guidance document contains valuable ideas for developing mathematical talk using picture books. I was very pleased to find out about Maths through Stories, an extremely useful website which was new to me.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Supporting communication, language and literacy with children with English as an additional language in the early years #3

Tower Hamlets class visitMany thanks to Tower Hamlets Idea Store and Libraries for this lovely photo. The perfect illustration for the final blog in my series on communication and literacy with children with EAL, this one looking at stories, books and reading.

I want to start with story-telling and reading aloud, because their impact is so enormous. Please tell stories and read aloud as often as possible – one-to-one, with small groups and to the whole class. A brief explanation before sharing a book the first time will help children with EAL, and others too, so they have an idea of the context and of key vocabulary. The biggest focus though should be on making story and reading times special. Use lots of oral and facial expression, big body movements and different voices. Repeat books and stories as many times as the children want. They learn so much from repetition, and love it. Provide opportunities for children to join in. Use puppets and props. Leave the books and the props around for children to play with afterwards. Create activities that tie in with stories and books, not least artwork, role play and re-enacting books. All these strategies send strong messages that stories and books are fun. And all hugely aid vocabulary, comprehension and literacy skills.

As much as possible, share books and stories in children’s home languages, calling on the prowess of staff and parents and carers. They can record themselves at home if they feel unable or nervous to perform live.

Make sure there are literacy opportunities everywhere and all the time. Reading, mark-making and writing are mutually supportive. Book-making, including in children’s home languages and dual languages, scribing children’s words where necessary, is great for developing literacy skills.

It’s well worthwhile to embed books and reading and writing routinely and imaginatively in everyday activities and topic work. There are lots of literacy opportunities to be found with cooking and construction for example.

What sort of books help when sharing with children with EAL, and for them to read for themselves? Actually, the same range as for everyone. Every setting should have a good range of culturally appropriate books that authentically represent children’s experiences. All children need and deserve books in which they can find children like themselves. All need and deserve books that provide opportunities to learn about how other people live. (For more on this topic, see the article I wrote for the English Association ‘Using inclusive books in the early years and key stage 1 – why, what and how?’) We should scrupulously avoid and get rid of books that reinforce stereotypes. What else? Books with clear illustrations help understanding and provide respite from the hard work of reading. Wordless books enable children to formulate thoughts in their home languages and to behave as readers. Dual language books are extremely valuable. Books with rhyme, rhythm and repetition build enjoyment, involvement and skills. Books with predictable story patterns make reading easier.

Please make sure to have cosy and attractive reading areas. Children with EAL – indeed all children – will be more inclined towards books and reading if they feel comfortable and safe.

And what about when children with EAL start to read? A big focus on phonics, needless to say, is utterly crucial. Don’t forget that depending on what their home language is, children with EAL may have to learn new sounds and sound groupings, a new script or alphabet, new sound-symbol relationships. Remember too all the new grammatical structures and the huge amounts of new vocabulary they are coming to grips with. Pre-teaching vocabulary makes a big difference. And of course, lots of support, positive feedback and praise for language and literacy progress, so that children with EAL experience success, something everyone needs.

In fact, the more I reflect on what is good literacy practice for children with EAL, the more I realise that it is good literacy practice for every child.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

10 day picture book challenge

picbks

I felt very honoured to be nominated to take part in the on–going ten day picture book challenge on Twitter. Thank you Sue McGonigle. It was incredibly hard to choose just ten books out the hundreds that I love. And formidably difficult to sum them up in only three words, a key aspect of the challenge. These are the glorious books that I eventually picked, and my descriptions of them (which I discovered are somewhat repetitive only as I put this together).

Day 1. The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton. Tate Publishing, 2018.
Nature – Optimism –  Community
Day 2. Tilly’s At Home Holiday by Gill Hibbs. Childs Play, 2014.
Affirmative – Inclusive – Hopeful
Day 3. You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart. Puffin, 2018. First published 2003.)
Interactive – Inclusive – Irresistible
Day 4. Through the Eyes of Me by Jon Roberts and Hannah Rounding. Graffeg, 2017.
Joyful – Affirmative – Autism
Day 5. 15 Things Not to Do with a Baby by Margaret McAllister and Holly Sterling. Frances Lincoln, 2015.
Funny – Subversive – Touching
Day 6. The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen. Orchard Books, 2013.
Beautiful – Sensitive – Reassuring
Day 7. Dog on a Train by Kate Prendergast. Old Barn Books, 2015.
Sensitive – Beautiful – Wordless
Day 8. Ernest by Catherine Rayner. Macmillan, 2019. (Originally published 2009.)
Very – Determined – Moose
Day 9. The Blue Balloon by Mick Inkpen. Hodder, 2019. (Originally published 1989.)
Balloon – Magic – Powers
Day 10. Mr Big by Ed Vere. Penguin Random House, 2008.
Loneliness – Music – Friendship

For those with access to Twitter, Jo Bowers has been collating contributors’ choices. Together they make a stunning roll-call of some of the very best picture books around. Every time I look I get delightful reminders of favourite titles, authors and illustrators, and inspiration for future book delving.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Picture books about flowers and gardening and their value for children’s wellbeing

gdnThe beneficial impact of books and reading on children’s mental health is well established. National Literacy Trust research tells us that children who are engaged with reading and writing are three times more likely to have high mental wellbeing than children who aren’t. Books are great stress reducers. The arrival recently of two beautiful new picture books that highlight the nurturing qualities of plants and gardening has led me to ponder the role of such books in terms of children’s wellbeing, a matter of huge concern in these very difficult times. Many commentators have noted how especially valuable gardens, plants and flowers have been to mental health during lockdown. Flowers and gardening symbolise hope, and what could be more important right now? So for Mental Health Awareness Week, here are my recommendations of picture books that explore the healing power of flowers and gardens, and that offer positivity and optimism.

  • Mrs Noah’s Garden by Jackie Morris and James Mayhew, Otter Barry Books, 2020 (there are activities related to this)
  • Bloom by Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen, Tiny Owl, 2020
  • The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton, Tate Publishing, 2018
  • Errol’s Garden by Gillian Hibbs, Childs Play, 2018
  • The Garden of Hope by Isabel Otter and Katie Rewse, Caterpillar Books, 2018
  • Sidewalk Flowers by Jonarno Lawson and Sydney Smith, 2015
  • The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin, Walker Books, 2013
  • The Flower by John Light and Lisa Evans, Child’s Play, 2007