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This time of year when the excitement of Christmas is over, but the weather is still cold and grey is a fantastic time to create a bit of cosiness by curling up with a traditional tale or two. Reading stories to children is an essential activity to help children learn speech and communication skills and helping children learn new stories also enhances their cultural capital. Sharing traditional stories can help us feel connected to our own childhoods and are part of our wider cultural heritage. There is also a fantastic wealth of life lessons that can be learned by thinking about the messages contained in these stories.
When choosing a traditional tale to share with your children it can help to think about the following:
- What stories do the children already know? Do you want to focus more on one you have already read so that all the children can get to know it really well, or do you want to introduce a completely new story?
- Consider the cultural background of the children you care for. Do you share stories that reflect their culture and history? Perhaps the children’s parents can suggest some stories that they shared when they were little.
- Have you got any learning intentions you want to be able to tie into the story, for example learning about sizes or stranger danger with ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears,’ the importance of helping out with ‘The Little Red Hen,’ or simple counting skills with ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff.’
- Are you going to read the story from a book? If so think about the language in the version you have chosen. Do they have any repeating phrases that can help children learn language? Is the language challenging enough with different words to learn but not too hard to understand that the children loose interest? There tends to be lots of different versions of traditional tales so you can find one suitable for the age and developmental stage of the children in your care.
- Do the children actually like the story? A story can fulfil all of the above requirements but if the children do not engage with it then it is pretty pointless!
Tips for getting the most out of the story when reading it with the children:
- Read the story several times until the children get to know it. (This can be done over a few days – you do not need to sit there reading it on loop!) Make sure all the children know the story well. By doing this you are helping increase each child’s cultural capital.
- When the children know the story well enough to anticipate which part of the story comes next encourage them to join in with repeated phrases and new words.
- Get the children to act out the story while you read it to them. Can they make up different actions to go with different parts or characters of the story?
- Can the children think of simple changes they would like to introduce to the story. For example if you are reading ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears,’ maybe the bears have pancakes for breakfast instead of porridge? This helps children take ownership of the story and also begin to understand the structures of storytelling.
Tips for telling the story to children instead of reading it from a book:
Although reading books to children is important there may be times that you simply want to tell the children a story instead. Telling a story without having a book to hold means you can have your hands free to use puppets or gestures to emphasise the words. It also means that, if you have a larger group of children that have to sit in front of you while you read, that there is no physical barrier between you and the children, meaning that you can relate more directly to them and their responses to the story. (In childminding settings with just one or two children this isn’t such an issue as they will normally be sitting on your knee as you read to them.)
- Use your body language and gestures to help tell the story. If a character is feeling cold, wrap your arms around yourself and shiver dramatically, if a giant appears, shade your eyes and peer upwards as if looking at them. Using gestures like this to emphasise your words will help children understand the story even if they cannot see any pictures. Encourage the children to copy your actions. In this way even non-verbal children can join in and show their understanding of the story.
- Think about how you can use your voice as you tell the story. Use a quiet voice when a character is creeping up to someone or a loud voice if you are pretending to be a giant! Children love it if you use different voices for different characters but don’t make voices too silly as this will distract the children from the story itself.
- Don’t think that you can’t move about. Why not tell a story outside and when the characters move – so do you! As long as the story remains the main focus you can act out running from a dragon, trip trapping over a bridge or climbing up a beanstalk.
Things to do so that children and parents can extend their learning:
- Provide puppets and props (don’t forget dressing up props if they are suitable for the story and you have them!) for the children to tell the story themselves during free play.
- Leave the story book somewhere accessible to the children so that they can request it when they want you to read it to them even when you have moved onto other books or stories.
- Share versions of the story with the children’s parents so that they can help continue the learning at home. (Worried about lending out your precious books to forgetful parents? Check out the solution below!)
Products that can help you explore traditional stories with your children:
Members of the Childminding Best Practice Club receive monthly toolkits bursting with information, ideas and support. These include special Traditional Tale focused Toolkits.
These toolkits have a wealth of resources to help you share traditional tales with your children. Including things like:
Specially rewritten and illustrated childminder friendly versions of different traditional tales. Print out as many copies as you need to share with parents.
Resources to compliment the story such as posters or games.
Ideas for crafts and activities you can do to go with the story theme.
Full set of planning covering every area of learning.
Hand drawn colouring sheet
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Books are a must have in every childminding and early years setting. I love children’s books and have a vast collection that I picked up over the years, from classic early years books that everyone will recognise through to rare books that are out of publication and on to brand new books which have just hit the shelves in bookshops. I am still discovering beautiful new books all the time and could probably end up filling my whole house. I think it is very important to introduce books to children as soon as possible so my collection also includes lots of books aimed at the very youngest children. However, if I could only have eight books for babies these would be my absolute essentials:
1) An early years classic to carry on traditions:
One of the very special things about reading books to small children is that it creates lovely memories for both the adult and the child. I read about a question an Ofsted Inspector recently asked a childminder: ‘which books have you read to the children so often that they know all the words?’ This possibly does not apply to our youngest children who are not yet speaking so I would ask, ‘which book have you read so often that the children will remember it when they read it to their children?’
You may have a book that you remember reading to your own children or one that you were read as a small child. Ask the child’s parents if they have a special book that they would like to share too. For example:
Part of a childminder’s role is to build relationship with the child and their family and sharing a special story in this way is a lovely way to start. When the child leaves your setting a lovely parting gift can be a copy of your ‘special’ book.
2) An interactive book:
Books with sturdy flaps to lift, textures to feel or holes to peep and poke fingers through are always on my must have list for babies and very young children. For example:
Any of the ‘That’s Not My’ books. I have a small collection of these as the favourite depends on what each child is interested in. Currently ‘That’s not My Car’ is a firm favourite and I have expanded my own car related vocabulary reading this book too!
3) A book about people:
Children are born with an instinctive fascination with other people and humans are programmed to recognise faces from birth. Chose books with a variety of different people so that children can see people that look like them and people that are different. For the very youngest children chose books that mainly feature pictures of faces as this is what babies are most interested in. For example:
Babies love looking at other babies so if you have very young children a book like this is a must. If possible, look for books featuring photographs of babies as this will appeal to very young children more than illustrated versions. One good example is ‘Baby Faces’ by the published DK, which shows babies from different backgrounds, pulling a variety of expressions. This has proved very popular in my setting.
4) A book about the wider world:
Keep this simple. For very young children almost everything is ‘the wider world.’ A good place to start is a book about animals. Young children love animals and some of the first words they speak may very well be animals sounds. Try and choose books with a good range of vocabulary. For example, I recently discovered some lift the flap animal books by Jane Ormes that feature farm animal families including Jack and Jenny donkeys!
5) A book that feature the children’s interests:
From a very early age children will start to develop interests. Even before they can say many words a child may be able to spot a ‘trador’ (tractor) from so far away that you are amazed that they can even see it or will point out every car that goes past. Tuning into these interests and providing books that feature them will help children learn that books are fun. If you are clever with your choices, it can also help children learn other things, not necessarily related to their main passion.
For example, I have recently discovered a book which is an absolute favourite in my setting. It is called’ Rosa Loves Cars,’ by Jessica Spanyol. It features a little girl and a wider cast of diverse friends who love cars and has lots of simple car related vocabulary that the little ones love to try and copy. I love the book because it challenges gender stereotypes and promotes diversity; the little ones love the book because it features cars. Everyone is happy!
6) A nursery rhyme book:
Reading anything to children will help with their language development but some books are more specifically aimed at helping young children with this essential skill. Nursery rhyme books fall into this category.
Traditional Tales are too long and complicated for very young children (although they are FABULOUS a little later,) but nursery rhymes are excellent for helping children acquire language skills. Their rhyming and rhythmic structure helps children remember and learn words and tune into the rise and fall patterns of speech.
There are lots and lots of sturdy board books featuring nursery rhymes, but my favourites are the ‘Child’s Play’ series. These books keep the rhyme nice and short and do not extend the rhyme with additional verses like some other nursery rhyme books. This makes them more suitable for younger children with shorter concentration spans. They also have lovely illustrations showing actions the children can do to accompany the rhyme. You can often pick these books up in charity shops so keep your eyes peeled.
7) A good quality first words book:
There are lots of these about from short board books concentrating on different topics like colours or numbers (you can borrow these sorts of books by the bucket load from your local library) to longer versions with almost every word you could ever want, accompanied by a picture. However, the most popular ones in my setting have always been those with pictures of scenes with lots of things to look at, spot and talk about. For example, in my setting the favourite is, ‘Thomas’s Word Book,’ featuring the famous tank engine. In fact, this book has proved so popular that my original copy wore out and I had to buy a new one!
8) A homemade book:
Children love stories that feature themselves or people that they know. You can buy books that will add a child’s name into the story but making you own books is easier, cheaper and more effective. Making your own books for or with children really gives them ownership over their special book. Your homemade books do not need to be fancy. For very young children a short book with some photos of themselves and their family members to look at is lovely. Cover some of the photos with flaps over the top to lift to make the book interactive. Make sure you have a few pages to turn so that children can learn about how a book works and your efforts are sure to be rewarded.
Disclaimer: I have not included number books on this list for a particular reason. I am certainly not saying to share number books with young children, but this is an essentials list. Very young children who do not even have a concept of what a number is are not ready to count so books featuring things to count in sequence are not necessarily the best way to introduce very young children to number. Instead make sure to have books which have number words in them such as nursery rhymes with numbers in them. When children are a little older or more developed and understand that you can count things then your numbers books will be much more useful.
Over to you:
I would love to know what your favourite books are to share with your very youngest children. Share your thoughts in the comments.
Do you want more support and ideas for working with your very youngest children?
I noticed that there isn’t as much support or training available for childminders about very young children under the age of two. This is why I introduced a special section in the Childminding Best Practice Club monthly toolkits which is dedicated specifically to this age group. In it you will find loads of ideas to try out with your very littlest ones.
The toolkits also contain a wealth of other ideas and resources including CPD ideas, inspection support and a themed section every month containing things like crafts, invitations to play ideas, resources and colouring sheets. Best Practice Club members also receive a useful. ‘New Members Welcome Pack,’ containing lots of other resources and a 25% discount off other Kids To Go products.
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