Children’s Library Essentials

adorable blur bookcase books
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I’m all about efficiency and effective organization.

I believe strongly in these principles because they give us the opportunity to get the most out of what we are doing, or wanting in life. When we are disorganized, we spend more time on trying to correct the situation, than if you put an extra couple of minutes into early planning.

Being effective and efficient also means being less wasteful. It does not mean having to live overly planned and rigid lives – quite the opposite really. A little bit of forward thinking means the ability to have control over a situation and, ultimately, more flexibility and enjoyment. This is something I try to practise in my both my professional and personal life.

I guess you’re probably a little confused at this point as to what this has to do with your child’s book collection? Well, with a little forward planning, you can have the “ultimate” library for your child that serves them well up until school age. Additionally, you can do this with minimal waste (ie books that just sit and collect dust) and have a more effective storytime each night.

My intent here with this post is not to provide you with a list of “best books” for whatever age. There are plenty of these floating around the internet (possibly with some ulterior motives for affiliate sales too..). Plus, every child has different interests, so a “best book” list may not work for your family. Don’t get me wrong, these lists are great for getting ideas for books if you really have none. I tend not to use these lists – I’d rather take my kids down to the library for a bit of trial-and-error. We pick a pile of books that has grabbed our attention, do a quick run through of each and shortlist what we want to take home (usually about 5x books). Once we get home, we read them. Some are hits, some are not.

The point of this post, however, is more a case of providing you with some ideas and tools to get longevity out of the books that you choose to buy. This point is also relevant to the reviews I post. I hope to empart some ideas to other families, but it is about adopting those ideas into what will work for you. Ultimately, if it doesn’t work, you won’t enjoy storytime as much as you want to.

The most important thing is that you and your family enjoy the books you are reading. If you don’t enjoy the books, then the frequency and quality of storytime will suffer.

I also believe that the collection you have at home does not need to be extensive (or expensive). There are so many opportunity for your kids to be exposed to different books (eg kinder, childcare, borrowing from libraries, etc) that your collection at home doesn’t really need to contain much, if done properly and cleverly. Plus, you will probably find that your child has a couple of favourites that they will just continue to cycle through (over and over and over again…).

Flexibility

Flexibility, I’ve learnt, is the number one rule for parenting.

Remember that what may work for your child one month, may not the next, so try be flexible in how you approach book purchases. You may not have control either on the quality/quantity of books in your collection, as many books you have may have been given as gifts. In all honesty, the bulk of the books in our collection are the result of gifts rather than purchases. Being effective in this circumstance, is a case of doing the best you can, with what you have, and while catering to the interests of your child.

A good way to road test books is to try them first at your library. If you find your child continues to want to read a particular book (or series), consider a purchase or even find someone who has it (and purchase or trade from them – this is a much cheaper alternative to buying new).

Inevitably, your child will grow out of some of the books. If you don’t have any younger children, it may be time to think about moving those books on. Consider donating them. Alternatively, a book swap is also the perfect opportunity if you want to update your library collection to cater to your growing family, while getting rid of older books.

Your Children’s Library Essentials

My recommendations for the ultimate children’s book collection that will hopefully stand the test of time:

  • Board Books: My number one tip. Wherever possible, get the board book version! This is especially true for baby and toddler books. Books will get drooled on, drawn on and ripped (see images below of our poor old copies of The Hungry Caterpillar and Cat in the Hat as an example). Even though these are a sign of a well-loved book, keeping them in as best condition as possible means that you don’t have to memorize the missing pages, and you can give them a second home when you are ready to move them on.20180806_084646.jpgPoor ripped pages…20180806_084702.jpg
  • Single-Worded Books: Books that contain simple graphics with a single word on each page are great books for babies, but also find a second life in toddler and pre-school years when teaching words, letters, and reading. Get a variety of these types of books that deal with different themes: animals, numbers, colours, etc.
  • Books for the Senses: Similar to single-worded books, books that combine the sense of touch and sound also make great books for childhood learning. The addition of touch (eg fabric, textured graphics, etc) and sound (noise buttons), enhance the learning experience.
  • Books with Motion: Pop-up and pull-tab books are great because they get the children involved with the story. They also add visual interest and can add a layer of suspense to the storyline. Some good examples include The Spot the Dog series, Elmer the Elephant, Look Out Leon! WARNING: these types of books get damaged easily, so try to encourage gentle reading!
  • Books with Rhyme and Repetition: Stories with rhyme and repetition are much more enjoyable to read. They also are a stronger language teaching tool.
  • Books with Photo Illustrations: See my earlier post – Illustrations Alive! for more information on the benefits of these books.
  • Classics: Build your library up with the classics – stories you enjoyed as a child and classic books your child will enjoy now. Think of the timeless books like The Hungry Caterpillar, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, etc. They’re called timeless for a reason – chances are your kids will also get a lot of enjoyment out of them too.

The Take-Away Message

  • Start small and build your way up. There’s no reason to go crazy with buying all kinds of books. Pick a few recommended ones to start with and build up from there. Let your child’s interest be your guide.
  • Think long term – which books could be good for babies, toddlers and preschoolers?
  • Make use of your local library! Stock your own collection with the favourites that are on repeat and borrow books for variety!
  • Stock your child’s collection with books that you like to read to them. There’s nothing worse than your child picking out stories and a) you try to push them to pick something else; or b) your story telling becomes luck-lustre! If you need to, store away books that are not age appropriate, or that you don’t really enjoy (maybe they were given to you as a gift). That way, every book your child asks you to read them is a winner for everyone.

How Reading Builds Resilience

Family storytime plays an important part in building resilience in our children.

What is resilience and why is it important?

Resilience is essentially our ability to cope, or “bounce back” from stress and adverse situations. The long-term impacts of stress on our health can include a weakened immune system, poor attention, inability to problem solve, or regulate emotions. Being resilient is, therefore, imperative to good psychological and physiological health. Resilience is a coping mechanism that does not come naturally to everyone, but with the right support, it can be developed.

Resilience can be nurtured at any stage in life. However, if parents (and educators) are aware of ways we can help our children become more resilient, we can give them the best head start to tackle stressful situations. Stress and adversity is an inevitable part of life – it is how we deal with those situations (whether big or small) that determines how we can recover from them.

Beyond Blue explains the concept of resilience wonderfully with an analogy to a plane encountering turbulent weather:

“The ability of the plane to get through the poor weather and reach its destination depends on:

Plane in storm
  • the pilot (the child)
  • the co-pilot (the child’s family, friends, teachers and health professionals)
  • the type of plane (the child’s individual characteristics such as age and temperament)
  • the equipment available to the pilot, co-pilots and ground crew
  • the severity and duration of the poor weather.”

Being resilient does not equate to requiring people to be “strong silent types”. It requires a whole network of support and the ability to draw on that support.

What role does reading stories play in all this?

Some of the ways that you can help build resilience in your children include:

  • Building their self-esteem – finding ways to support and give your child confidence in their skills.
  • Building healthy relationships.
  • Working on problem solving skills.
  • Managing their stress and anxiety.

The simple act of reading to your kids on a daily basis can strengthen all of these skills. With some planning and understanding of resilience, you can make storytime even more effective. Some of the ways you can do this are:

  • Give your child your undivided attention when you read to them – go to a quiet, warm room away from distractions. Dim the lights. If you have more than one child, you may need to give them separate storytimes. There are benefits to joint storytime, but it can also be disruptive. Make the call on what works for your family.
  • Let your child have a say in what story is being read.
  • Set some (flexible)rules around discussions and questions during the story. Eg. questions to be asked at the end of each page. Make sure your child understands the expectations. This way, you can get your child to focus on the story without distraction while still allowing them to question/discuss the story with you.
  • Give yourself adequate time for storytime. Don’t rush the story. Also make sure there is enough time after for discussion at the end without your child/you being too tired.
  • Address all of your children’s questions compassionately – don’t make them feel silly about the questions they ask, or for their interpretations of the story.
  • Take the time to “debrief” on the story. Work through any conflict, problems, emotions etc with your child and discuss ways in which they were resolved.
  • Take the time to build compassion and understanding about the character’s feelings.
  • Above all, enjoy the time you are spending reading the book!

A note about mindfulness

Mindfulness is the process of “being in the moment”. It is a practice used in meditation and is widely being used as a technique to help combat stress, anxiety and depression. Practicing mindfulness, therefore, also helps build resilience.

While there are many various ways of promoting mindfulness, it can be a bit tricky with young children. Younger children do not always have the attention span, but with some gentle guidance you can engage with activities that can help draw attention to mindfulness. Reading, if done right, is one of those activities (check out Hey Sigmund for some other activities too).

When you are reading to your children, try to make the routine quiet and free from distractions. This way you can help your child focus on the story, the illustrations, their emotions, and their senses (the warm blanket on their bed, your voice, etc).

Reflection on learning

Rather than doing a review for today’s post, I wanted just to take the time to reflect on the opportunity that storytime provides us to better understand our children.

I find that we often underestimate our children’s capabilities.

We have a preconceived notion of what children can do and at what age they should be doing it. We sometimes also become dismissive of our children’s want/need to participate in conversation. It is for this reason that we are “surprised” by what our children do and say.

We are taken aback because we often don’t give them enough credit for their ability to listen, interpret and analyse – they are just children after all….

This is not to say that we should be treating children as adults; rather just taking a step back and being more aware to how in tune our children really are. They are often more creative and open to ideas than adults, who get stuck into a particular view on the world.

Once we are able to do this, we can challenge (not push) and grow our children’s learning capacity. We can trust in their ability to problem solve with some compassionate guidance.

Storytime offers a perfect opportunity to test the waters:

  • Read a story that you think may be a bit “old” for your child and ask questions about what they understand from the story. Keep doing this from time to time – children learn and grow quickly! Even if they don’t quite understand the story at first, take the time to explain and discuss.
  • Let your child pick their own story – don’t belittle their choice or steer them to something else that you think is appropriate. Chances are that they picked a book because it interests them. If they lose interest in it, they will tell you. Be guided by your child’s interest and try to foster it.
  • Always try to take the time to “debrief” after a story. This aids the comprehension process.

How Often Should You Storytime?

photo of a boy reading book
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In short, whatever works for you and your family. The important point here is that you are setting aside some time to read to your kids.

While I was at my local library, I saw a poster with a quote from Mem Fox which read, “The ideal three stories a day are one favourite, one familiar, and one new, but the same book three times is also fine”.

I was a little taken aback by this quote – three books daily? Sure this is ideal, but is this realistic for the modern working family? Probably not. Good on you if you do manage this.

Being on maternity leave at the moment, I have the luxury of a bit more time up my sleeves for this sort of thing. As you can probably imagine by the theme of this blog, storytime is also a priority in our house – but, I will admit that we don’t read three books each day to the kids. Occasionally we may make this milestone, but it is certainly not the norm.

This milestone was definitely not achieved while I was at work (and only one child in tow). Realistically, we had to make a conscious effort to make sure my daughter got her single bedtime story, no matter how exhausted we were.

I feel a little torn about my sentiments toward the quote on the poster. Sure, we need to promote parents reading to their children, but there’s a fine line with adding to the already ever-present “mummy/daddy guilt”. As if there weren’t enough pressures to parenting. Now, you have Mem Fox telling you that one book at storytime is not ideal…(sigh)…

My philosophy on this is – quality over quantity. If you can manage three books a day and give each of those books the attention they need, then, by all means go for it. Personally, I can’t. We do storytime right before bed and I’m often as exhausted as the kids.

I would rather pick a book and spend the extra time on it alone. My daughter is extremely inquisitive – each page takes a good few minutes of additional questions, learning to spell/read, discussions about the illustrations, story line, etc in addition to the actual reading of the story. As she gets older, the age appropriate books get longer and more complex too.

If we were to do this with three books every night, we would have over an hour-long bedtime routine just for my daughter – which, quite frankly, doesn’t work for us. I love reading stories with my both kids (yes, even the 4 month old who doesn’t quite understand yet). I would hate to rush through this process because I felt the need/pressure to fit in three stories a night for each child.

While at the moment we do a combined storytime at my son’s bedtime, I feel this may come to an end soon due to differences in age and comprehension level. As much as I try to find even learning ground so that both parties can be involved, I’m wary of how long it can be sustained. If this does come to an end, this means two separate storytimes.

Like I said earlier, occasionally we do hit the milestone. Some days we attend storytime at the library; some times we make extra time during the day for another book or two at lunch; and I know my daughter gets stories read to her at kinder. But, as I said, I have a bit more time at the moment to try wiggle this in throughout the day.

Parents shouldn’t be beating themselves up about “ideals”. As long as there is some effort in giving your undivided attention to quality time over a book, they’ll reap the rewards. Also remember that it takes a village to raise a child and others (ie grandparents, library storytimes, daycare, kinder, etc) may also be contributing to your reading goals.

Quality over quantity.

Once Upon a Time…

Thanks for joining me on my blogging journey! This is certainly a new experience for me. I am naturally more of an introvert, so putting myself out there is a bit frightening.

person holding black and orange typewriter

After months of ummm’ing and ahhh’ing on how and when (or if) I was going to take the dive into blogging, I made the decision to write about books. I spent time thinking about my audience and what I could write to them that they may find interesting. However, I came across a stumbling block of which I am a little ashamed….I am not a particularly avid reader…

Contradictory? Hypocritical you say? Well, not really. Let me explain.

As a child, and into my late teens, I loved nothing more than to snuggle up in bed with a book. I would read for a least half an hour every night until my eyes could no longer hold themselves open. I would demolish novels.

Life continued like this until – university. I was enrolled in a Bachelors of Arts which consisted of history subjects, philosophy, sociology, linguistics, etc. The demands for reading over the course of these three years was high and it ultimately took its toll. After three years of copious amounts of read, analyze, summarize, write, the love of reading had been sapped out of me.

Don’t get me wrong, I still read and I do also believe in the ongoing benefits of reading as an adult. It’s just that now the nature of that reading has changed. I read technical manuals and bulletins for work. I read the news. I read blogs. And, above all, I read to my children.

I would say that I “don’t really read for fun anymore”(ie I don’t read fiction novels), but I lie. Reading to my children is much more fun than sitting down to a novel. The trick here is to find books that are enjoyable to read and that grab the interest of your kids. Reading to your kids requires a lot more of your whole-of-body input (that’s right, channel your inner actor), but it is well worth it. The rewards benefit two parties in one go.

It is the notion of storytelling that I am most fascinated with. As adults we lose the human connections in the stories we get told. We watch movies, TV shows, read social media posts, watch lectures, documentaries, etc, etc. These are all stories being told to us. They connect with us on various levels, but they often lack the human element. Some of us are fortunate to know a friend, family member, colleague who has mastered the art of telling a story – and aren’t their stories the best stories?! I have a second cousin who, no matter what the story, has the room in stitches. The difference here is that, when they tell you a story, they are connecting directly with you.

This is what your children get to experience daily when you read them a book. We are lucky enough to have a multitude of resources available to us (often for free), where we get the good story given to us. We just need to put a little time and effort into engaging our audience, our kids. We can buy a book once and keep it for a lifetime (if your kids don’t destroy it in the meantime). Libraries also offer us a host of new material for free.

It is for that reason I want to share the children’s books that are a part of our family and I would love to hear what other families are doing.

I don’t claim to be a parenting expert, nor even close to being a perfect parent. Like most of us, I am just an imperfect parent doing the best I can, with the skills I have and the resources I have available to me.