For International Children’s Book Day (Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday on 2 April) we’ve put together ideas from authors and educators, along with some popular ECA quality-assured books to encourage and support educators in reading aloud with groups of children.
The birthday of Hans Christian Andersen, 2 April, is the inspiration for International Children’s Book Day, when the love of reading and books for children is the focus. Andersen was a prolific writer and a riveting story-teller. He often made exquisite paper cut-outs to accompany his tales and would finish by unfolding the cut-out to the delight of his enthralled listeners.
The Emperor’s Clothes, Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid are just some of his well-known works for children (not to be confused with the Disney-lite versions). Although he wrote nearly 200 years ago, good story-telling is timeless. While books for children have changed enormously in range and number what hasn’t changed is how important it is to read aloud with children and for them to hear and enjoy stories from a young age.
Telling and discussing stories, reciting books and rhymes, singing songs and reading aloud expose children to many different words, phrases, social situations, characters and experiences says literacy and early childhood expert Laurie Lind Makin in Talking and learning.
There are lots of tips for parents on beginning to read aloud to their child, one-on-one, that emphasise those special parent-child times at the end of the day. But the circumstances for educators differ:
- a busy early learning setting
- larger groups of children
- children with differing capacities and interests
- children of various ages from babies through to school age
- the goals and structures of daily programming.
Educators need several approaches and strategies, particularly first-timers who may be nervous about the idea of reading aloud to groups of young children.
So for International Children’s Book Day International Children’s Book Day we’ve put together ideas from authors and educators, along with some popular ECA quality-assured books to encourage and help you get started reading aloud with groups of children.
Not one size fits all: as we all know, reading aloud needn’t always mean reading to a large group. Just as parents are encouraged to find a comfortable place and create a sense of expectation and closeness, educators too can set the environment to ensure children experience reading in small groups or individually. This encourages their input and more expansive discussion.
Set the space: Create spaces for different combinations of reading:
- a wide armchair for a cosy pair
- a sofa for groups of three or five children to gather and where pages are easy to reach, see and share
- a large space with comfortable cushions, mats and a sturdy easel or stand so that the whole room of children can see, join in and enjoy a shared ritual
- a quiet reading corner as well as puppets, special props or furniture can signal story-time and create a sense of expectation too.
Short is sweet: At first, keep it short. Ten minutes at a time can keep reading together fresh and engaging. Children’s author Mem Fox recommends at least ‘ten wildly happy minutes every single day reading aloud’.
Make it joyful: take pleasure in reading and make sure it is fun and pleasurable for the children. Laugh, pause to look around the page just as you might look around a garden before deciding where to go next. A short book or several short books are a good way to keep reading fun and lively for everyone.
Be expressive: The more expressive you are the more interested children will be. Use all of your voice when reading aloud. Try different voices and tone for different characters. Use your eyes to show emotions: widening, narrowing, looking from side to side to express surprise, suspicion, curiosity, happiness and similar. Even if you’ve read a particular book aloud a hundred times, read it again with all the liveliness you would give to a first reading.
Take your time: Reading aloud includes ‘looking aloud’. Pause, wonder out loud about what might happen next in the story. Wait for children’s questions to surface or ask them your own: ‘why do you think she did that?’, ‘what do think will happen next?’ Watch the actors on ABC Story-time (Playschool) for ideas on how the experts do it. Don’t try to ‘finish’ a book if children seem to be losing interest or are drawn to another activity. Save the rest for later or for another day.
Choice: Encourage children to choose which books to read aloud and respect their choice. (Yes they will bring you the same one again and again!). The repetition of favourite sounds and stories helps children enjoy and master language.
Start young: Even the youngest children enjoy books and being read to and are capable of making book choices, if given access, time and space to express a preference. Babies have the capacity to choose their favourites, sit together, share books and point to details on the page. Watch for them to give non-verbal cues such as ‘shaking their heads to say no and nodding for yes’. Try not to ‘unwittingly override babies’ expressed preferences or presume babies don’t have preferences’ is the wisdom pursued by the early childhood professionals in their chapter on literacy in A Walk in the Park.
Stay fresh with new approaches: Keep the same book fresh for yourself and the children by trying a different approach on different readings:
- vary the rhythm and speed to match the storyline—pause, slow down and speed up
- make your voice loud when the text needs to be loud, quiet when it needs to be quiet (Going on a bear hunt and Quentin Blake’s riotous We all join in are good examples)
- wear a hat inspired by one of the characters
- try matching specific words to parts of the pictures as you read
- emphasise the illustrations and encourage children to ‘read the pictures’ and suggest what will happen next in the story as you turn each page.
Plan and practise: If it helps to develop confidence, practise your voices, props and reading aloud in front of a mirror at home. Relax and enjoy it yourself: that’s how children will learn that reading and books are a joy for life.
Get started with some of ECA’s popular, quality-assured children’s picture books
Do you remember as the lights went out as a child how the night’s shapes and sounds and the troubles of the day grew in your mind? Sensitive educators are attuned to children’s day-time expressions of anxiety or worries and books that deal with fears and courage can be especially helpful. How big are you worries little bear is a beautifully illustrated and gentle story that gives young children ways to deal with anxious thoughts and fearful situations. Take the opportunity to explore words for concepts that might not yet be available to the young children in your care. Use the picture book to find strategies that can be gently reinforced in fun ways throughout the day, through conversation, reading and in imaginative play.
Some of the popular titles reviewed by ECA approach difficult topics with sensitivity and care and provide a shared language for educators to communicate important themes to children. My body! What I say goes! is one such book that focuses on safe and unsafe touch, secrets and private parts. In a storybook format this book covers concepts that arise frequently (and not always when expected) around young children and for which adults sometimes don’t have the words to respond! Another, which deals with gender equality, choice, and self-esteem, is the wonderful No difference between us, depicting the delightful twins Jess and Ben who, in all the big ways that matter, are alike.
Supporting groups of children to welcome and work with difference is a demanding aspect of the inclusive educator’s practice. A picture book that can help in understanding autism and uses child-friendly language is Being Friends with Bodie Finch. Children will relate to the toy-snatching antics and dilemmas that Zara faces when a new child arrives in class. Like Miss Tinker, educators can help the Zaras in their room to see what life is like for others. With her guidance and a better understanding, new boy, Bodie, and Zara learn about friendship. This book also comes with a digital handbook so that educators can develop their own Miss Tinker strategies.
In simple language My family is a team: A story about mental illness explores complex issues. Using positive, warm language and illustrations that include grandma and health professionals, this story focuses on one family and its community as they navigate living with a mental health condition, something that affects an estimated 45 per cent of Australians at some point in their life. This picture book can be supplemented with free educator resources on mental illness and wellbeing from Be You.
Team work, sustainability and the impact of humans on animals and animal habitats are woven into Sally Morgan’s colourful story, Benny Bungarra’s Big Bush Clean-Up. Colourful and clever illustrations by Ambelin Kwaymullina bring Australian animals to life in a story that demands problem-solving and provides natural opportunities for questions and close looking.
A is for Australian animals is another approach that combines facts, maps and detailed illustrations of animals in a dazzling sweep of Australia’s animals and places. By award‑winning author-illustrator Franè Lessac, this is a companion book to A is for Australia and a great way to spark interest, support a child-led project or create an ‘irresistible experience’.