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There was an article going around earlier this year that talked about about how the Inuits use storytelling as a way of teaching their children rules, boundaries, and emotional regulation.* I really loved the premise of this, but had a hard time figuring out how to create the right stories for the lessons that applied to our family. I tried to come up with stories on the spot about characters who shared, who brushed their teeth well, or who listened to their mommy, but it turns out, I’m a not a natural storyteller. I’m embarrassed to admit that in just the last couple weeks, I realized that I can use already written story books to teach these lessons and many other values. I didn’t need to make my own stories up when I have a wealth of stories right at my fingertips. Since we are reading often with Nora, I bet she’s already been picking up on these lessons through the intentional children’s books we’ve already been reading.
Learning Lessons Through Books
Getting intentional with drawing the lessons out has been a little harder, but seems to be worth it. Nora has been having a really hard time sharing what used to be “her” baby toys with Charlie now that he’s big enough to be playing with the more exciting ones. We recently checked out the Big Book of the Berenstain Bears from the library and in it is the story The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby. In the story, Brother Bear gets a new big bed so that Sister Bear can have his baby bed when she is born. Brother Bear is so excited that he has his new bed, but also that he has a little sister that is using his old bed. When Nora was trying to take over Charlie’s play house the other day, I brought up the story of how Brother Bear had to give his little bed away, and it clicked for her in that moment that it was good to share her things. Of course, this didn’t last all day, but it’s a start!
Prepare for New Activities
As I’ve shared in past posts, we have been using books to help us with all sorts of activities already. We have our potty training books (The Potty Train and Usborne Books What is Poop? are still read multiple times a day here) and our church books. I just bought some new Usborne books talking about feelings in hopes that Nora will share what emotion she is experiencing instead of just melting down- the two’s are fun. We started pretty young with Nora with all of the shapes, numbers, and letters books, and I think, because of that, she’s got those pretty well down, so we know that books are a good way, at least for her, of teaching her different ideas.
Introduce New Ideas for Play
Even the books that don’t have as obvious of an emphasis have been helpful for creating new play ideas, introducing places we are going, and talking about how to handle different situations. One of the most random lately is from her 5-Minute Mickey Mouse Stories in which one of the stories talks about a picnic at which they eat fruit salad. She went through a huge phase of serving us fruit salad made of all sorts of different objects. Nora’s also all of a sudden very into Pete the Cat books, and after reading Pete the Kitty and the Case of the Hiccups a million times, every time she gets the hiccups (which is surprisingly often), she says “How do you stop the hiccups?” and then goes through all of the different ideas the friends in the book have. It’s pretty funny!
Live and Learn Vicariously Through Books
In thinking about how much she is picking up from these stories right now, I’m trying to be intentional in the books that she’s reading. I want to surround her with materials that help her become a good human as she continues to grow and learn. I recently read The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie and came away with so many ideas for forming a family culture based on stories. One of the ideas that stood out the most to me was that reading allows people to live vicariously through experiences of those in the book, so that they don’t necessarily need to live it themselves to gain the perspective and learn the lessons. Books also can then have an impact on how compassionate your children become by exposing them to these different perspectives. I feel like we know this intuitively as adults with the difference that reading a headline in the news feels vs. reading a story about someone who is experiencing what’s going on in that headline. Stories are the conduit by which people feel the perspectives of others and, hopefully, then grow in compassion.
Introduction to Empathy and Kindness
In our family, then, I want to find intentional children’s books that are not just a cute story but also, either subconsciously or not, teach values and tell stories that we want to be a part of our family culture. If I had to choose one quality that our kids have when I send them out into the world, it would be that they are kind. I want them to be empathetic and compassionate with others. I may not succeed (who knows what kind of kiddos Tony and I make), but I can give them a good foundation to start from. To help with this, I’ve started looking for books with a diverse set of characters in race, class, and ability, as well as in family type. I want to find more books about characters from different places in the world and about different cultures. I want to find books in which characters figure out how to solve disagreements compassionately. I want to find books that the characters face hardships, and though they may not solve all of their problems, they still find sparks of happiness. I want to provide a wide basis of characters for my kids to fall in love with and learn alongside.
Let’s Choose Intentional Children’s Books
This is a little overwhelming- there are soooooo many books to choose from and not near enough time to read through them all. Luckily we’re starting early- Nora’s only 2.5 and just starting into the “big kid” books, and Charlie’s just starting to get into his touch and feel books. I’ve started looking at lists of intentional children’s books on different blogs, finding different classics that are classic for a reason, and just trying out different books at the library. Nora’s an eager book listener, so she’ll definitely be our guinea pig as we figure out which books are worth adding to our shelves and which just don’t fit. I’d love to hear if any of you have books you love dearly- both intentional and just fun ones to get us started. We’re just starting to fill our bookshelves with true children’s picture books, and I need help finding the ones that will help us instill the values we hold dear in our kiddos <3