For me, the best part about reading books with my kids is all of the lessons they teach. Obviously this has been the focus of most of my blog posts, but I feel like this part of it is so important that it deserves its own tip post as well.
Even though I am working hard at adding more nonfiction into our reading schedule (see my post about that here), I still gravitate towards the stories with characters who get in some kind of trouble, work their way out, and learn a nice, neat lesson at the end.
(My personal adult reading tendencies are much the same… I cannot handle a book that leaves me hanging, or WORSE, ends unhappily! And my favorite are the ones that give me a sweet epilogue where everyone has learned from their mistakes and is currently living happily. ever. after.)
My guess is that my tendencies are partly a result of reading my absolute favorite series over and over again when I was young. Are you ready?… Wait for it… Here it comes… The Berenstain Bears!
So that is where I will start my next tip to boost early reading skills.
When you finish a book with your kiddo, ask a few simple questions:
- Did you like it?
- What was your favorite part?
- What lesson do you think the book was trying to teach?
The first two questions are really just to get them talking, and the third is where you can really see if they understand the story you read. One of the reasons that The Berenstain Bears goes along so nicely with this tip is that they give you a hint about what the lesson is going to be at the beginning of the book.
We try not to skip over this part for a couple of reasons. One, it sort of “primes the pump” about what lesson to look for when you read. Two, when your kiddo isn’t quite able to articulate what the lesson is, you can always go back to that page and see if you can figure it out together from there.
My son fell in love with The Berenstain Bears in late Kindergarten/early first grade. We probably read one every night the entire summer between the two grades. (Thank goodness my mom never throws away books and still had ALL of mine! We genuinely have a hard time finding titles on the back that we do not have. That’s how serious we are about these books!)
Some of our favorites are:
The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Pressure – There’s a good lesson for parents in this one too!
The best part is that once kids start talking about the lessons in these books, they feel like they can talk about more than just the obvious ones, and you can have all kinds of great conversations after you read.
We read The Berenstain Bears and the Real Easter Eggs on Easter this year. Brother and Sister Bear end up finding some real eggs and realizing that Easter is about the celebration of new life (even if mother nature does not want to cooperate this year!), not just the hunt for tons of candy. When we were done and Brother and Sister Bear did not end up winning a giant chocolate bunny, my son said that he thought that everyone who did the Easter egg hunt should get a giant bunny so that it would be fair. We ended up having a discussion about the fact that it is okay to compete and for some people to win a prize that others don’t. We talked about his basketball tournament and how his team didn’t win the big trophy, but he still had so much fun playing and learned a ton about basketball. He said that he guessed I was right, and we ended up with two lessons for the price of one.
Though we love The Berenstain Bears series, and I can’t wait to read it with my younger son too, he is not quite ready for that length of book yet. So, on to another of our favorites series in this house… Pete The Cat!
Pete is great for any age reader. My 6 ¾ yo still loves them as much as his 3 ¼ yo brother. And they both loved them from the time they were babies. The ones that are part of the “I Can Read: My First Shared Reading” series are especially great for all age levels. They are fun enough to not bore the parents of babies, short enough for a toddler’s attention span, and easy enough for a beginning reader to read on their own. Plus, Pete is awesome!
While I would say that most kids cannot answer the third question above until they get to at least age 4 or 4 ½, The other two can be asked when they are even younger. You may not get great answers for a while, but it will get them in the habit of thinking about something they have read after they read it.
The best part about these Pete The Cat books is that he says the lesson at the end of each one!
That way, the kids get the lesson even before they are able to pick it out for themselves. If you want, you can even reiterate the lesson the book teaches after you ask the first two questions. Maybe by saying something like, “My favorite part was that Pete said that sharing is cool! It’s nice to share with our friends, isn’t it?” Even if all you get in response is a spit bubble, I promise those words are getting in there somewhere!
Our two favorite from this series are:
The hints in these two series make them great for learning this skill (even for kids who are struggling with reading comprehension). But these questions and types of conversations can obviously go along with any book you and your kiddos read. Just about every other post I have written discusses the lessons we learn from the books we read. There are just so darn many. Even some you might never guess would come from a particular book (like in this post).
The books we love to “read with expression” could have just as easily been examples of great lesson books. Anything by Mo Willems will bring you so much joy that you really need his books in your life!
Actually, though it may be a lesser known Mo Willems title, maybe my favorite lesson of his comes from the book, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. When I first read the title, I was pretty sure it was going to be weird, but I LOVE it!
One of our favorite new Usborne books teaches a GREAT lesson about perspective and how we interpret the world based on who we are. It is called A Tale of Two Beasts and is written by Fiona Roberton.
And the list could go on and on… and probably will in future posts!
Of course these skills will help kids to be successful readers as they turn into elementary students. But more importantly, as kids get older, turn into middle school students, turn into high school students, and eventually leave the house (…cue the tears…), we hope that they have learned enough from us to face any new situation. But we can’t possibly have faced them all ourselves. That is the genius of books.
As my dad always said, “A smart man learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” The better they are at learning those lessons from the books they read, the less they will feel they need to make them themselves… Right?? Please tell me I’m right! Ugh. I hope I’m right!
As always, thanks for reading! Do you recommend any other books because you just LOVE the lesson? What about whole series? I would love to hear from you in the comments below or on one of my social media pages – find the links to the right!