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).

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

I’m sure you have the song stuck in your head already just by reading the title! A timeless classic book and absolute must read to your kids.

This book is available to borrow at the Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries (check your own local libraries too!), and for purchase at numerous stores – Kmart, BigW, Dymocks, etc.

The ABC are also showing an adaptation to a short 30min movie – see here.

Summary

“Brave bear hunters go through grass, a river, mud, and other obstacles before the inevitable encounter with the bear forces a headlong retreat.”

Suitable for toddlers, preschoolers and young school age children.

What I love about this book

By far what I love most about this book is the sing-song style in which it was written. The repetition of phrases being similar to that of the chorus in a song “we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!” It really is a joyous read.

The illustrations are also beautiful. Oxenbury captures the sense of adventure through the use of alternating black-and-white and colour watercolour images. The illustrations are wonderfully detailed and really captures the imagination.

The powerful combination of language and illustration make this an extremely engaging book. I suspect this is why it has been such a popular book since its first publication in 1989.

The story is also a great aspect of the book – it is adventurous and engages all of the senses to draw you in.

Storytime Tips and Activities

  • Try as best as possible to read the story uninterrupted to get the best effect from the sing-song language.
  • Put on your storytime acting hat! This story is best read with lots of good intonation, sound effects, variations in volume and appropriately placed pauses.
  • Get carried away with the story, but also take the time afterward to go through some of the illustrations with your child to further explain what the family is doing.
  • You can use the story as a song to enact your own bear-hunt at home!

Not so scary after all!

Monsters Love Underpants by Claire Freedman

This is a very entertaining read for toddlers and pre-schoolers alike. It helps to take the fear of the “monster-under-the-bed” away when your little one sees the monsters in their silly underpants.

The book is available to borrow at the Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries (check your own local libraries too!) and for purchase at Booktopia.

Summary

“There are prowly monsters howling loudly and drooling monsters from the steamy swamp. There are wild, woolly mountain monsters and spiky, spooky monsters from outer space. And they all have one thing in common – they LOVE underpants!

This hilarious Underpants story is hairy, scary – and silly! You’ll never think of monsters in the same way again!”

This book is best suited to a preschool age, but would also be suitable for toddlers. It would even be appropriate for younger school age children.

Although the book deals with monsters (which some younger children may find frightening), they are certainly not portrayed in a scary manner.

What I love about this book

The illustrations in this book are fantastic – bright, detailed, creative and engaging. Each page tells its own story and the illustrations deserve their own explanation in addition to the story text.

What I really love about this book is the theme with which it deals – taking the fear out of the unknown and the perception of “scary monsters”. It picks up on the notion of vulnerability and that things aren’t always as they seem.

The way that the theme is presented is perfect for little ones. Talking about brightly coloured underwear on a monster is humourous and silly. A lovely light-hearted book that can also help teach children about their emotions.

The monsters in the book are bright and full of personality. They are not dark or creepy characters; rather a character who could be be-friended.

Storytime Tips and Activities

  • Take the time on each page to go through the illustrations with your children.
  • Talk about the patterns and colours that your child can identify.
  • The rhyme in this book is a little strained. Try reading each paragraph slowly and uninterrupted (if possible!). This will help your child take the words in and so that the flow of the story is not broken.
  • The way the sentences and words are arranged are not as simple or as direct as other rhyming books, so it doesn’t not lend itself well to word/letter recognition for younger kids. Try take the focus to the illustrations once you have read each paragraph in its entirety.
  • Read in a light hearted manner to reinforce how “silly” the monsters look in their colourful underpants.
  • At the end of the book, take the time to discuss fears with your children. Explain how sometimes things seem scarier than what they really are. When we take a look at and tackle what scares us, it takes away the fear-of-the-unknown. This is often what scares us more than the “scary-thing” itself. Sometimes we can even have a laugh at what used to scare us!

 

Poor Little Owl…

A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton

Further to my reviews of Oh No, George and Shh! We Have a Plan by Haughton, I decided to take a look at A Bit Lost.

What a sweet little book this is! Accompanied by Haughton’s signature illustrations, this book is humourous and overall, a lovely read.

A Bit Lost can be borrowed from the Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries (check your own local libraries too!) and purchased from Booktopia and Walker Books.

Summary

“Little Owl must be more careful when he is sleeping … Uh-oh! He has fallen from his nest, and with a bump he lands on the ground. Where is his mummy? With the earnest assistance of his new friend Squirrel, Little Owl sets off in search of her, and meets a sequence of other animals. Yet while one might have his mummy’s BIG EYES, and another her POINTY EARS, they are simply not her. Chris Haughton’s striking colour illustrations follow Little Owl on his quest. Which of his new friends will lead him back to his mummy?”

Suitable for toddlers and preschoolers.

What I love about this book

The endearing characters are probably the best thing about this book. As a parent, your heart strings tug for the little lost owl and the worried mummy. The squirrel and frog are cute and remind me of how sweet young children can be. They really try their best to help little owl.

The story is humourous and reinforces the love that parents have for their children. A great book to cuddle up with your own little owl.

The language used in the book is clear and simple, making it engaging for both a toddler and preschool age audience.

Storytime Tips and Activities

  • Talk with your child about how little owl and mummy owl are feeling and how they might feel in the situation of being momentarily separated. Remind your child that the owl and mummy are re-united!
  • Take the time to pause and discuss how the squirrel and frog help little owl (there is a positive side to the story!)
  • Talk about why squirrel may have thought that the different animals were little owl’s mummy.
  • Make the actions with your child, copying the owl’s description of his mummy.
  • The simple language in this book is suitable to do some letter and word recognition with older children. Run your finger over the words as you read.

A Children’s Book Institution

I wanted to pay homage to a children’s book institution – Spot the Dog by Eric Hill.

These books are so clever and engaging to children of various ages. A couple of Spot books are an absolute must for your children’s book collection (that is, if you don’t already have at least one!).

I grew up with Spot and am getting just as much joy sharing various Spot books with my kids. A real classic with timeless enjoyment.

We have a couple of Spot books at home which had fallen a bit out of favour. When I say “fallen out of favour”, I by no means meant that my daughter no longer enjoys them – they just got buried under the current favourites (ie Olivia by Ian Falconer mainly).

Some of the first books that I bought my daughter was a set of 4 Spot the Dog board books (colours, numbers, shapes and first words). They were very small, containing only one word per page, and just perfect for little hands. I picked these up at my local post office and they were fantastic for teaching her first words.

On a recent trip to the library, my daughter picked up two different Spot books – Spot’s Opposites and Happy Christmas Spot. When we got to reading them, I was reminded about how good these books are and why they have stood the test of time. She is now using these larger Spot books to learn reading and expand her vocabulary.

If you have never read any of the Spot books, they follow a playful pup (with his family and friends) through day-to-day activities. The illustrations are bright and depict objects/stories to which children can relate. The language is clear, direct and simple – making them a fantastic teaching tool for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

The Spot stories are gentle and story lines relatable for many everyday activities and situations. Even though most of the Spot books are appropriate for a wide age and learning variation, some of the books are tailored better for different audiences.

The beauty of the Spot of the Dog series is that Hill uses various techniques to engage with and teach language skills to young children:

  • Clear, simple and bright illustrations,
  • Direct and clear language,
  • Bold text, often high contrast too,
  • Relatable stories and characters,
  • Lift-up flaps and pull tabs,
  • Use of teaching language tools and reinforcement built in to the story (eg one page showing a single word accompanied with an illustration of that word, then use of the word in a sentence).

If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend getting a couple of Spot books for your children’s book collection. You can find many of these books in libraries and in bookstores alike. It’s great to see that stories I enjoyed as a kid are still as popular as ever.

 

 

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.

A bit of individuality please!

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer

So far, this is my favourite in the Olivia series (see my reviews also of Olivia and Olivia the Spy).

As with the other books in the series, the illustrations are fantastic and little Olivia is full of personality. She is extremely intelligent, confident and inquisitive, a great character for young daughters in particular.

What I love most about this book is the message that it conveys – individuality is important, and that just going along with “normal” is really very boring. This is an important notion for both our sons and daughters.

In this book Olivia is having an “identity crisis” and explores the various options she sees available to her. She questions why other young girls would want to all look the same as princesses with pink ruffly skirts and tiaras, when there are so many other alternatives out there.

As with Falconer’s other Olivia books, Olivia’s grasp of language is better than a lot of adults (I know many adults who wouldn’t be able to use the term ‘corporate malfeasance’ in a sentence). This is how Falconer cleverly caters to the parents who are reading the book. He engages them by creating a level of relatability to their own children. We feel the mother’s exasperation with Olivia’s persistent questioning, we relate to our children coming out with sentences and thinking “where on earth did you hear that!”…I love the opening line “Olivia was feeling depressed” – how many young children truly understand the notion of being depressed? She uses the term in such an exaggerated manner, very reflective of her expressive character.

Another great read by Ian Falconer. A sweet and humourous book which delivers some complex and important discussion points to have with our children around socialization and behaviour.