Five picture books to help parents talk to children under seven about death


simplerdesign/Shutterstock

Maggie Jackson, Teesside University

However uncomfortable we may feel about the subject, death is in the news at the moment. Many of us have lost people during the pandemic and, even if we want to shield children from hearing or knowing about death it seems unlikely that we can.

As adults we may hope that our children won’t be aware of death and that we can protect them from it. However, it is important that we support them in their understanding by allowing them to ask questions and be curious.

One source of help with children between the ages of four and seven is the picture book. Since the 1980s, there has been an explosion in the production of good quality picture books often dealing with difficult subjects. The picture book is an incredible resource as the illustrations provide sources of information without the need to be able to read text. Reading picture books is often a shared event. Seated side by side with an adult, a child can listen to the words and explore the pictures and see and be curious about the images presented.

It has been suggested
that their value lies in the fact that the pictures can provide material not explicit in the text, allowing the child to construct the story in their own way and to ask their own questions. The pictures do not just simply offer a matching illustration of the text but, provide a story on their own, allowing for curiosity and for the child to guide the adult.

Here is a selection of picture books which can help parents begin to have conversations about death and how we might feel about it with young children:

Beginning to talk about death

In When Dinosaurs Die: A guide to understanding death, we are given a series of small frames in which different aspects of death are considered, allowing a young child to look at the pictures and pose their own questions. The little dinosaurs ask about a wide range of things concerning death such as: what happens at funerals? Why do people die? And also how might we feel about death?

Cover of When Dinasaurs Die featuring cartoon dinosaurs sitting on a doortstep.

Turtleback Books

In similar way Frog and the Birdsong looks at general questions about death. This brightly coloured book shows us a group of animal friends who come across a dead bird while they are out for a walk. They ask many pertinent questions, as might a child, and are helped to find the answers by a more knowing hare. The friends then bury the bird and shed a tear before going on their way.

These two books offer a supportive and safe way of thinking about death – they do not look at the pain of loss or grief and perhaps can thus be a helpful way to begin to talk about death.

Broaching the idea of loss

Cover of Harry and hopper featuring a boy hugging a dog.

Scholastic

Some books that may help to begin to address the subject of loss are about the death of a pet. This is no less painful and serious but, sometimes seen as easier to talk about. Lovely Old Roly and Harry and Hopper are two such examples. In each book we are told about the death of the pet and the sense of loss and emptiness felt by the children. Roly’s children feel so sad they are unable to play or do any routine tasks. Harry misses Hopper so much that he yearns for his return and imagines or dreams that he has returned. In each book we see that eventually the children begin to feel OK but are reminded they will never forget.

Understanding grief

Cover of The Heart and the Bottle featuring a large bottle with a little girl next to it.

HarperCollins

The Heart and the Bottle is perhaps more difficult as it deals with a little girl who does not feel able to talk or let herself feel anything. In it we are shown very directly the shock of the little girl when she walks into a room expecting to find her grandfather but sees only his empty chair. The little girl is unable to talk about her unhappiness and so shuts her heart away. This book can allow a child to see that it is better to acknowledge the pain and to let others see how much it hurts.The Conversation

Maggie Jackson, Senior Lecturer in school of Social Sciences Humanities and Law, Teesside University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Parents play a key role in fostering children’s love of reading



Reading books with your child means children learn to connect reading with feelings of warmth and sharing.
(Shutterstock)

Lorraine Reggin, University of Calgary; Penny Pexman, University of Calgary; Sheri Madigan, University of Calgary, and Susan Graham, University of Calgary

Learning to read is one of the most important developmental achievements of childhood, and it sets the stage for later school and life success. But learning to read is not straightforward. As child development researchers, parents often ask us how they can help their children to become good readers.

Parents can play a key role in supporting the development of children’s early language skills and fostering a love of reading, before and after children start formal schooling.

Literacy begins early

The building blocks of literacy are laid down during infancy. Even newborn babies’ brains are sensitive to the sounds and complexities of language. Babies don’t just need to hear language, they need to participate in language too.

Even though babies may only be able to say sounds like “ga,” “ba,” and “da,” they benefit from having these sounds repeated back to them in what are called conversational turns. A recent study found that the number of conversational turns between babies and parents is a key ingredient to building language skills.

The number of conversational turns between babies and parents is key to building language skills.
(Shutterstock)

So, when your baby says “ba,” respond. You can repeat “ba” or ask “Is that so?” or try to guess what they are saying (“Did you see a ball?”).

We know that babies who hear more words, speak more words and who hear more complex language produce more complex language later in childhood. These language skills help children get ready to read.

Early childhood

As babies turn into toddlers and preschoolers, their language gets more complex and they start to build the knowledge of words that they will eventually need for reading. By building language skills, preschoolers are also developing the attention, memory and thinking skills that will prepare them for school.

Preschoolers benefit from having books read to them. When parents read to children, it helps build children’s vocabulary and expands conversations. You can start with short picture books like Goodnight Moon and move onto longer picture books like Where the Wild Things Are or Corduroy.

Preschoolers also learn important language skills during play. Board games, games like “I Spy,” singalongs and acting out stories all help build the language skills they need for learning to read. When parents interact and talk out loud with toddlers and preschoolers during play, it supports the child’s learning of sounds and words.

Reading books and talking with your child helps your child build a positive attitude towards language and literacy.
(Shutterstock)

Having conversations, reading books to your child and playing with your child are all activities that help your child build a positive attitude towards language and literacy. They will learn to connect reading with feelings of warmth and sharing. You can encourage them to choose the books, and the place where you will read them, and in turn start to foster their identity as a reader. These positive experiences support your child’s emotional and intellectual development.

Ready to read

Researchers have long debated how children learn how to read, and how best to teach them. Today, it is clear that children need explicit phonics instruction (learning which sounds match different letters), lots of practice, and support for understanding written material. This means that children must learn how to “crack the code” of reading.

Children need to learn that lines, curves and dots make up a letter and that each letter matches to a sound. Although the English language has 26 letters, these letters make up 44 different sounds. Children start to learn that the letters are paired up with certain sounds through various activities at school, and you can help your child practise when they read out loud to you at home.

Once children have learned to map sounds to letters, they need to learn to map the sounds to meaning or match the sounds to the words they know. They also need to build reading fluency. Fluency means reading accurately, smoothly and with expression. As a child gains fluency, they read more naturally, faster and more easily.

As a child gains reading fluency, they read faster.
(Shutterstock)

Parent tips for early readers

Most children begin home reading programs in Grade 1 and continue with home reading into grades 2 and 3. Below are some suggestions for nurturing and building a positive home reading experience.

  1. Try to set aside at least 15 minutes a day for reading time.

  2. Consider the factors that set reading up for success in your home. For example: What times of day might work best for your child to do their home reading with you? Where do they most like to read, on the couch or in their bed?

  3. Practise reading books that are simple and easy for your child to repeat. If your child cannot get through the book, the level may be too advanced.

  4. Point out periods and commas where your child should pause, and talk about using different voices. Point out different kinds of expressions. For example, if the character in the story said “STOP IT,” you could explain to your child that they could use a louder voice.

  5. Indulge and support your child’s love of certain stories. The best way for children to become fluent readers on their own is through practice, and repeating beloved stories is one way to encourage practice.

  6. Continue to read to your child. When parents read, children can listen and enjoy books that they wouldn’t be able to read yet. This helps build their vocabulary and enjoyment.

  7. Check your child’s understanding of the book. You can help your child by asking questions before, during and after reading. Your questions create opportunities for conversation. You might ask questions like:

“Why do you think the children snuck downstairs?”

“Does this story remind you of anything we have done?”

“Leaped is an interesting word. What does that mean? Do you know another word we could have used there?”

Then you could mention jumped, hopped or skipped.

Some children will learn to read more quickly than others, but all children need practice to become skilled readers. A consistent home reading program can start children on the path to literacy and all of its benefits.

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Lorraine Reggin, PhD student, Cognitive Psychology, University of Calgary; Penny Pexman, Professor of Psychology, University of Calgary; Sheri Madigan, Assistant Professor, Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Child Development, Owerko Centre at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, University of Calgary, and Susan Graham, Professor and Director, Owerko Centre, University of Calgary

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Research shows the importance of parents reading with children – even after children can read



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Research has typically found that shared reading experiences are highly beneficial for young people.
Shutterstock/Alfira

Margaret Kristin Merga, Murdoch University

Many of us will be able to recall the enjoyment of shared reading: being read to and sharing reading with our parents. However, my research has found that of the 997 Year 4 and Year 6 respondents at 24 schools who took part in the 2016 Western Australian Study in Children’s Book Reading, nearly three-fifths reported that they were not being read to at home.

A sample of these children also participated in interviews, where I asked them how they felt about shared reading. While a few children did not mind no longer being read to, others were disappointed when it stopped. For example, when I asked Jason about his experience of being read to by his parents, he explained:

… they kind of stopped when I knew how to read. I knew how to read, but I just still liked my mum reading it to me.

His experience is common, with other recent research suggesting that more than one-third of Australian respondents aged six to 11 whose parents had stopped reading to them wanted it to continue.

But why is it so important for us to keep reading with our children for as long as possible?

Research has typically found that shared reading experiences are highly beneficial for young people. Benefits of shared reading include facilitating enriched language exposure, fostering the development of listening skills, spelling, reading comprehension and vocabulary, and establishing essential foundational literacy skills. They are also valued as a shared social opportunity between parents and their children to foster positive attitudes toward reading.

When we read aloud to children it is also beneficial for their cognitive development, with parent-child reading activating brain areas related to narrative comprehension and mental imagery. While most of the research in this area focuses on young children, this does not mean that these benefits somehow disappear as children age.

As young people’s attitudes towards reading reflect their experiences of reading at home and at school in childhood and beyond, providing an enjoyable shared reading experience at home can help to turn our children into life-long readers.

However, not all shared reading experiences are enjoyable. Some children described having poor quality experiences of being read to, and children did not typically enjoy reading to distracted or overly critical parents. In some cases, parents attempted to outsource this responsibility to older siblings, with mixed results.

While many children really enjoyed the social aspects of reading and being read to as valuable time with their parents, they also felt that they learned from these experiences. For example, listening was felt to provide an opportunity to extend vocabulary, and improve pronunciation. Gina recalled the advantage she lost when her parents stopped reading to her, as:

… when they did read to me when I was younger, I learnt the words; I would like to learn more words in the bigger books and know what they are so I could talk more about them.

Similarly, Craig explained how being read to enabled his academic advantage in literacy, as “they were teaching me how to say more words”, and “that’s why I’m ahead of everyone in spelling and reading and English”. When this stopped “just because my mum thought I was smart enough to read on my own and started to read chapter books”, Craig was disappointed.

In addition, children were sometimes terrified of reading aloud in the classroom, and this fear could potentially be alleviated through greater opportunities to practice at home.

Hayden’s anxiety around reading aloud at school related to his lack of confidence, and his tendency to compare his skills with those of his peers. He described himself as “always standing up there shivering, my hands are shivering, I just don’t want to read, so I just start reading. And I sound pretty weird”. No-one read with him at home, so he had limited opportunity to build his confidence and skills.

This research suggests that we should not stop reading with our children just because they have learned to read independently.

The ConversationWe should continue reading with our children until they no longer wish to share reading with us, ensuring that these experiences are enjoyable, as they can influence children’s future attitudes toward reading, as well as building their confidence and competence as readers. It is worth the effort to find time to share this experience with our children in the early years and beyond.

Margaret Kristin Merga, Senior Lecturer in Education, Murdoch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Reading with your children: proper books vs tablets


Nicola Yuill, University of Sussex

Most of us have an opinion about whether we prefer reading on screen or paper: but what difference does it make for children? The truth is that technology is now encountered from babyhood. Anecdotes abound of toddlers swiping their fingers across paper rather than turning the page, while parents and teachers express their fear of screen addiction as tablets introduce new distractions as well as new attractions for young readers.

Ofcom figures tell us that children’s screen use rises sharply towards the end of primary school (from age seven to 11) and in the same period, book-reading drops. Increasing screen use is a reality, but does it contribute to a loss of interest in reading, and does reading from a screen provide the same experience as the feel of reading on paper?

We looked at this in our research on shared reading. This has been a neglected topic even though it is clearly a common context for children when they read at home. It might be their regular homework reading of a book from school, or a parent reading them a favourite bedtime story.

Warming up

We asked 24 mothers and their seven to nine-year-old children to take turns – mother reading or child reading – with popular fiction books on paper, and on a tablet. They read Barry Loser: I am not a Loser by Jim Smith and You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum by Andy Stanton. We found that the children’s memory for the descriptions and narratives showed no difference between the two media. But that’s not the whole story.

The interactions of parent and child were found to be different in the independent ratings from video observation of the study. When they read from paper rather than a screen, there was a significant increase in the warmth of the parent/child interactions: more laughter, more smiling, more shows of affection.

It may be that this is largely down to the simple physical positioning of the parent and child when using the different media, as well as their cultural meaning. When children were reading from a screen, they tended to hold the tablet in a head-down position, typical of the way they would use the device for solo activities such as one-player games or web-browsing.

This meant that the parents had to “shoulder-surf” in order to share visual attention. In contrast, when parents read to their children on paper, they often held the book out to support shared visual engagement, tucking the child cosily under their arms. Some children just listened without trying to see the book, but instead curled themselves up comfortably on the sofa.

Paper or pixels?
Megan Trace/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Keep taking the tablets?

Our research joins a growing list of studies comparing paper and e-books, but the answer isn’t a simple one. Shared reading is different to reading alone, for a start. And we may be interested in whether screen or paper makes a difference in how children learn to read, to understand, and enjoy reading. In short there are multiple perspectives to consider – developmental, educational, literary and technological – if we are to decide which medium is preferable.

Most studies have compared children at the earliest stages of reading, using paper books, e-books with audio and dictionary support to help less-skilled readers, and so-called “enhanced” e-books with multimedia, activities, hotspots and games.

Text with audio support helps children to decode text, and multimedia can keep a reluctant reader engaged for longer, so a good e-book can indeed be as good as an adult reading a paper book with their child. But we don’t yet have long-term studies to tell us whether constant provision of audio might prevent children developing ways of unpicking the code of written language themselves.

They think I’m reading; I’m playing Candy Crush.
George Rudy/Shutterstock

Re-design for life

There is also increasing evidence that adding multimedia and games can quickly get distracting: one study found that young children spent almost half their time playing games in enhanced e-books, and therefore they read, remembered and understood little of the story itself. But there is plenty of guidance for e-book developers on the what, where and how much of designing multimedia texts.

And that brings us back to perhaps the defining conclusion from our own study. Books versus screens is not a simple either/or – children don’t read books in a cultural vacuum and we can’t approach the topic just from a single academic field. Books are just books, with a single typical use, but screens have many uses, and currently most of these uses are designed round a single user, even if that user is interacting with others remotely.

We believe that designers could think more about how such technology can be designed for sharing, and this is especially true for reading, which starts, and ideally continues, as a shared activity in the context of close long-term family relationships. Book Trust figures report a drop from 86% of parents reading with their five-year-olds to just 38% with 11-year olds. There is a possibility that the clever redesign of e-books and tablets might just slow that trend.

The Conversation

Nicola Yuill, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bringing maths into bedtime stories can help children learn – and make the subject less scary for parents too


Kylie Robson, University of Canberra

As parents, we know how important it is to read to our children. Many families include this as a regular part of the bedtime routine.

While we feel confident this is contributing to our child’s literacy development,
new research shows that this nightly routine could also be used to help improve maths skills.

How reading can help your child learn maths

The study by researchers in the US gave 587 students in year 1 (between 6 and 7 years old) tablets featuring an app with short passages to read with their parents.

Parents would read these passages with their child and then answer questions based on the text. Families used the app on average 4 times a week between the Autumn and Spring of 2013-14.

One group read stories which contained a mathematical focus, which allowed children and their parents to discuss maths in a natural way and complete simple problems together.

Each passage came with five questions ranging in difficulty from preschool to fifth-grade level and covered topics including counting and arithmetic, fractions, geometry and probability.

There was also an additional bank of questions for families who wished to explore the passage further. Families could complete as many questions as they were comfortable with after reading the story.

A second, comparison group read the same passage with the specific maths content removed and answered questions which focused on recalling facts, inferring information and spelling.

The results were overwhelming.

The students were tested before and at the end of the study and those who read the maths stories, adapted from the Bedtime Math app, showed significant improvement in their overall mathematics learning during the year.

When comparing the children in each group who used the app most frequently, the study saw a three month advancement in maths achievement for those who read the maths-focused stories.

Helping parents boost their confidence in maths

Research shows that parents tend to place more importance on language learning than on mathematical development when their children are young. A reason for this could be that parents don’t feel as comfortable with teaching maths, compared to literacy.

But research shows that when parents are stressed about maths, their children learn less mathematics over the school year and can also develop the same negative feelings towards the subject.

Children who feel anxious about maths are also less likely to engage in the classroom and will avoid mathematical tasks.

This avoidance leads to missed learning opportunities and a greater sense of potential failure.

Once the cycle has begun, it can be hard to redirect this momentum.

While the research focused on stories designed for an electronic device, the findings highlight some key points for parents.

Sharing stories with a mathematical focus, and the discussions which are then created, can contribute to an increase in achievement at school.

For parents who are struggling with their own mathematical anxieties, this comes as welcome news. The study goes on to suggest that this sharing of stories and discussing maths with our children, can help parents become less anxious in this space.

The federal Government recently committed $6.4m to support the development of maths resources for students. This forms a part of the government’s agenda to improve the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths subjects in our schools.

So how can parents use books to help improve their child’s maths skills? Here are some suggestions:

Reading tips for parents

Read books with mathematical concepts to your children.

In some books the content is obvious – we are all familiar with Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Try reading these as well:

  • 365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental
  • Leaping lizards by Stuart Murphy
  • Math for all seasons: Mind-stretching Maths Riddles by Greg Tang
  • My Grandmother’s Clock by Geraldine McCaughrean

Consider asking your local librarian for some other ideas. Look for books with amusing pictures and colourful illustrations – we know how this attracts children to read.

Talk about the book with your child, as you would with any other story.

The mathematical elements will naturally come into the conversation and should be encouraged – this will help children to see maths as part of everyday life.

By simply including books which include mathematical concepts in nighttime routines, parents can feel more confident that they are contributing to the mathematical development of their child outside the classroom at the same time as creating a less stressful environment for discussing mathematics.


Kylie will be taking part in an Ask An Expert Q&A on Twitter from noon to 1pm on Thursday, November. Head over to Twitter and post your questions about learning and teaching maths using #AskAnExpert.

The Conversation

Kylie Robson, Clinical Teaching Specialist – Mathematics and Literacy Education, Faculty of ESTeM, University of Canberra, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Changing the World: November 20 – Child Rights


The suggestion for today is about protecting the rights of children. Here in Australia it is sometimes said that children have more rights than their parents and to some extent this does appear to be a sound argument. More needs to be done to ensure parental rights in the area of discipline (note I didn’t say child abuse), etc.

However, throughout the world children face regular exploitation and abuse. The more that can be done to prevent this sort of abuse the better.

For more information on the rights of children visit:

www.unicef.org/crc

I will always seek to protect the rights of children wherever I see them threatened. This is something that I believe begins right where you live.

A response to reading ‘365 Ways to Change the World,’ by Michael Norton