Four Ways to Read Wordless Books to Your Toddlers
I remember the first time my daughter was gifted an (almost) wordless book - the classic "Goodnight Moon" board book.
I took the one year old to bed and started flipping the pages, and dutifully read from one page to another: "Goodnight, Elephant", "Goodnight, Giraffe", "Goodnight, Armadillo", "Goodnight Goodnight Goodnight Goodnight Goodnight"...
And then, just like that, the book ends!
(if the baby had some more verbal skill, she would have objected that this was the MOST BORING STORY EVER!).
I realised soon that in reading so literally such a book, I had completely missed the point, that the book needs to be narrated on your own, not read word for word!
Soon enough, I started switching to a different mindset when it comes to reading this kind of book.
(*If you are unfamiliar with Goodnight Gorrilla, it's about a cheeky gorrilla who stole the guard's key chain and followed him to free all the animals in the zoo, then took all back to the guard's house, where he proceeded to sneak into bed, between the guard and his sleepy wife. A genius must-buy that I'd recommend for any toddler!)
Wordless books are in fact a very different breed to worded books - they stimulate spontaneous storytelling and narration, rich imagination of both the teller and the listener, rather than relying on words. They have their own power in magical ways to transform and elevate stories.
Five years in with two very talkative kids, here are some tips to make the most out of your wordless books and create a meaningful reading time, from what I've learned myself and from other parents:
1- Talk directly about what you see and feel on the book
At the very early stages, children usually receive wordless board books or busy books made of fabric. The book itself is already a sensory experience to the young infant.
There are many things to discover, from textures of the book, colors and details on the pages, to (sometimes even) what sounds the book make. Everything invites her to explore.
To all you need to do is verbalise that experience, so that you can also expand her vocabulary: This is a red circle, that bear feels very soft, the duck's feather is velvety... The little ones are listening intently, and believe me, they NEVER forget. (you'll see when they start talking, they will repeat back the words you said!)
By narrating and improvising each time, modifying our language to fit their cognitive level, we help them to increase their vocabulary tremedously.
( Talk about how the books and details feel to you)
2- Ask questions
Asking questions is the quickest way to energise and engage your little tot into reading. As soon as they can make signs and say the first words, you can start asking them simple questions.
For younger ones it could be questions on the elements they've seen: shapes, colors, textures, etc. how do they feel?
When there is a story involved, asking question helps your kids to show their grasp of story elements like plot, character, conflict, theme and even symbolism.
This lays a terrific foundation for down the road, when they are learning to write and create their own stories in school (or at home).
3- Encourage child-led narration (and do not interrupt them)
When they start talking at a certain level, let the children to tell you the story themselves! Not only will this take the pressure off you, child-led narration help them to expand their vocabulary, exercises their imagination and oral skills.
Usually this does not depend on how much the child can talk, but how confident she is! This confidence can be encouraged if you hold off any interruption and correction that may make her shy or conscious.
If you have shown her that she can "read" in any way she wants without following a written script or being corrected, she will soon babble so many imaginative stories of her own.
If you child is a little reluctant, give it time, he’ll come around and you may be surprised at the things he invents!
4. Relate the book to your child's life
Wordless books are great as conversation starters, and with the help of some visuals and pretend-play, you can talk more in-depth about things that he is interested in, or that you want him to be better about.
Did you just come back from a trip? Look at the airport page of your child's board book, help him relive the airport experience: the hurrying people, the pilot, the luggage, the planes, and verbalise what he likes or doesnt like about it.
Does your child like to eat dimsum? Let her pretend to eat yum cha with the dimsum quiet book page, and talk about different types of dumplings she likes.
Does she have not want to brush her teeth? Leverage the "everyday brushing teeth" quiet book page to ask her to practice - chances are she loves that sort of pretend-play enough it will have some "spill-over" effects to make her brush her teeth for real! (one would hope...)
You get the idea! Pretend-play is the most favorite games for many kids, and this way of inserting themselves into the story will thrill them to no end while helping them expand practical knowledge and skills.
( Bring the book to live by linking it with their experiences)
Wordless books are a wonderful way to grow your child's memory, imagination and vocabulary. They make for a very personal parent-child bonding time too, since no reading session is the same. Once you are good at reading wordless books, you can pretty much "read" to your little child anything with pictures with them: magazines, posters, flyers ... and she may be just as fascinated. Have fun reading!
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