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A Secret to Student (and Teacher) Success: Storybooks that Teach

When our son was toddler we owned a set of Sesame Street board books. Each one featured a letter of the alphabet, with several verses of a catchy poem highlighting words that began with the featured letter. They were quick, fun reads, and he wanted to read them together. ALL. THE. TIME.

What we weren’t consciously aware of at the time, was just how much he was comprehending from the stories. That is until we were hanging out with some friends who had two children a bit older than our then-18-month old.

The children were playing with small wooden blocks – the kinds with numbers and letters on the sides. And as they were building, our son was naming the letters. I wasn’t sure if that’s really what was happening, so I lined up the blocks in different orders, and asked him to find certain letters. He did. Then I mixed them up and asked him to name the letters in front of him. And he went down the line and named them all.

I was surprised. It’s not that I didn’t know he knew some of the letters. Afterall, he could grab a book off the shelf and say, “K, peese!” But I was surprised that he knew ALL of the letters. And I was most surprised that he could transfer the context of the letters from the storybooks to the blocks.

It was at this point that I really started to think about what else he was learning through the books we read.

Fast forward 15+ years, and it’s still very apparent that children do learn through the books they read – even when it’s just for fun. And with recreational reading on the decline (competing for attention with the likes of video games and streaming services), WHAT children read (or what’s read to them) is more important now than ever.

That’s one reason why selecting storybooks that teach is so important. Children connect with the characters. And if they can see themselves or someone they know in the characters, or if there are examples that are relatable to what they experience day-to-day, it makes the connection that much stronger.

For this reason, Boys Town Press actively seeks and recruits experts as authors for our storybooks and resources. These experts are educators, speech-language pathologists, counselors, psychologists, parents, and more. They write the stories about real-life behavioral or developmental challenges they see in children. Or they write about life skills which are critical to the development of healthy relationships and positive outcomes using scenarios they face in school or at home.

The magic, you see, is in the teaching. Sometimes topics like these are difficult to address. Sometimes it’s because children haven’t been taught or are not being reinforced for these expectations at home. Sometimes they struggle with emotional regulation, so getting them to calm down enough to receive the correction their parent or other caring adult are trying to make is extremely difficult. Sometimes they are unable to recognize the consequences of their actions as just that. And sometimes the adults in their lives just need help getting the conversation started. There are a variety of reasons.

But there’s good news in that tools are available to help with all of this. The great thing about a social skills-based storybook is that in 6-7 minutes, a great deal of teaching and learning can occur in an entertaining, non-threatening, but very effective way.

Imagine picking up a story about a child who struggles with impulse control, such as What Were You Thinking?. As you read it, perhaps one of your students starts to recognize some of the behaviors of the main character, Braden, as her own. She then sees the reactions of the other children and adults in the story who were affected by Braden’s negative behavior. She also sees that there’s a consequence earned for the negative behavior. But she’s not left wondering or guessing what to do about it. Instead, she’s provided with a few simple steps to follow that can help Braden – and her – make better behavioral choices. At the end of each book, then, are tips for parents and educators that help them reinforce what was taught in the book, with some suggestions on discussion topics or ideas on how to expand the learning. And in many cases (like this one) these storybooks also have optional downloadable activities, providing classroom-style lessons designed to add to and help children generalize the skills.

There are storybooks for a variety of topics – everything from making new friends, to overcoming sibling rivalry, to following instructions, disagreeing appropriately, or making apologies, to managing sadness, to valuing differences in others. There are dozens of books, on dozens of topics.

Because most of the storybooks are 32-page quick reads, they are narrow enough of a focus to cover one or two specific behaviors or skills. They are entertaining and able to keep the attention of children. And best of all, the teaching is direct, but delivered in a neutral way, at a neutral time, which provides the best opportunity for positive teaching.

Storybooks that teach are fantastic tools to add to your toolbelt. Let Boys Town Press continue to equip you with the tools you need to help your children succeed in school, on the playground, at home, and beyond.

Sep 23rd 2020 Erin Green, Director, Boys Town Press

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