Picture books offer something special for children who are first learning how to interact with the world around them. Simple depictions of everyday occurrences take on a new meaning and play a critical role in the development of children’s language skills, visual thinking, and emotional literacy.
Building Language Skills
Parents are often advised to read to their children every day as soon as—if not before—they are born. In fact, this is backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which based its suggestion on research showing that children whose parents talk to them more have an advantage in school over children whose parents talk to them less. Vanessa LoBue, PhD explains how one advantage lies in the number of words children are exposed to when parents speak to them out loud. She further clarifies that when parents make an effort to read to their children, they expose them to different words that are not regularly used.
As children grow and begin to speak, they learn how to recognize sounds and patterns in spoken language. This is known as phonological awareness. Picture books tend to have a certain rhythm that makes it easy for children to develop and practice phonological awareness. At the most basic level, picture books help children understand that words convey meaning by creating a connection between the pictures and the words on each page. The pictures give visual clues for children to decode the text and help develop their vocabulary.
Not all picture books utilize a strict rhythmic pattern, but this isn’t necessary to help increase phonological awareness and comprehension. In fact, children might start to gravitate to a particular book and wish to re-read one book over and over again. This repetition can help children get better at hearing, identifying, and manipulating individual sounds in words. Additionally, by reading the same book each day children have more opportunities to visualize the links between how a word is spelled and how it is pronounced.
Inspiring Visual Thinking
Along with the introduction of new words and rhythms, picture book illustrations bring the pages to life and help children understand what they are reading. Therefore, even if children have a difficult time understanding the exact words in the text, the illustrations can help them comprehend the narrative.
One major part of reading comprehension is the ability to summarize a story. This is why picture books are neatly organized into identifiable beginnings, middles, and ends with the visual aid of illustrations: to remind the reader what is happening throughout the story, allowing them to confidently retell key events. This also teaches children how to make predictions about what will happen next.
Promoting Emotional Literacy
Picture books have also been proven to help expand a child’s emotional literacy, or the ability to express one’s emotional state and communicate one’s feelings. Emotional literacy is one of the most important social skills a child can develop because it is the first step in the development of empathy, which allows children to recognize and respond to the emotional states of others and create deeper connections with their peers.
Emotional literacy starts around the age of four and continues to develop into adolescence, which correlates to the average age of picture book readers. It may develop more slowly in children on the autism spectrum. Emotional literacy can also be taught, which is where picture books are helpful as they allow children to indirectly experience the emotions of the characters through text and imagery. This gives children exposure to a variety of emotions and situations that they can then apply to everyday life.
Star Bright Books recognizes that picture books create a much-needed foundation for children to develop their language, visual, and emotional skills. Visit our main website for books that will showcase diversity and promote phonological awareness!