As the parent of a toddler, I’m repeatedly reminded just how quickly young children develop an awareness for the world around them. The other morning I was getting my daughter ready to leave the house and explained there was a chance that it would snow. She remembered snow from last year and was excited at the prospect of playing in it and wanted to wear her full snowsuit. I told her there are different kinds of snow, and that her full snowsuit was unnecessary for the sleet mixture expected. She was disappointed until we decided she should wear her puddle-jumping boots instead.
These ‘teachable moments’ crop up frequently with young children in the course of everyday living. And while English language speakers may not have as extensive a vocabulary for snow as the Inuit, the conversation that I had with my daughter about the weather illustrates two of the key components of learning to read: vocabulary and background knowledge.
The toddler and pre-school years are a great time to introduce your child to concept books, which cover specific topics ranging from shapes and colors for younger children to the seasons, the senses and animal families for older children. Reading concept books helps to satisfy children’s natural curiosity and provides them with a vocabulary for asking about and describing what they see in their own world. As a parent I’ve discovered the joy that comes from reading concept books together — often something we read about in the book sparks an interesting conversation. And at this young age children begin to realize books aren’t only a source of entertainment, but also a means for learning and understanding.
So the next time it’s snowing — or sleeting or raining — stay inside and explore the greater world with a concept book. Here are some of my favorites:
My Five Senses by Aliki
Hippopposites by Janik Coat
Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert
Tell Me, Tree: All About Trees for Kids by Gail Gibbons
Leaves, Leaves, Leaves by Nancy Wallace
Mouse Paint by Ellen Walsh
– Lynn H., CADL Youth Services Specialist