Using story time to help children with vocabulary and rhythm and rhyme
Children’s stories and books are fantastic at helping children with vocabulary, rhythm and rhyme. This article is has a few suggestions on those three themes. Do let us know if you have your own great stories that help your kids’ vocab.
Stories and books for building children’s vocabulary
Whilst picture books may be visual in their impact, there are many that aim to improve children’s understanding of the sounds of words and syllables, and directly support them in learning to read.
The sounds of words are crucial for the later development of literacy, and it will be clear to their primary and secondary school teachers, whether or not your child has a grounding in this area when it comes to spelling, and to writing poetry!
Dr Seuss books take this to the extreme by using a 250 word vocabulary, but there are many more modern picture books that use a range of simple vocabulary in a much more imaginative way. These will help your child to build up a basic sight vocabulary, and to learn to spell the common endings of words.
A simple example of this type of picture book is Giles Andreae and Nick Sharratt’s More Pants. Phrases like:
Red pants, green pants
Yellow submarine pants
are meant to be read aloud again and again, and to be chanted or sung, so that children develop a feel for the rhythm of the words, and learn the rhyming syllables. The chanting is a game, and should be fun.
Many students who struggle with reading, even in the early years of secondary school, do not have a basic sight vocabulary, and cannot recognise the way that words that sound the same usually (even in English) have similar spellings. This book has lovely simple illustrations, with blocks of primary colour, and would help to build the basic vocabulary of all pre-school children.
Teaching rhythm and Rhyme through books and stories
Other books that focus on the sounds of words and help to develop reading include Where’s Tim’s Ted? By Ian Whybrow and Russell Ayto. Here the illustrations and the rhymes are appropriate to a more sophisticated audience, but the key is still to recognise that the sounds of words are crucial to learning to read. Books like these allow parents to begin to share those sounds in a way that is lively and fun, a first step to independent reading.
In a similar way Tyrannosaurus Drip by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts uses rhyme to make language both memorable and fun, albeit with a more complicated use of language and rhyme scheme:
In a swamp beside a river, where the land was thick with veg,
Lived a herd of duckbill dinosaurs who roamed the water’s edge.
It is clear that here the words and spellings are much more complex, and the spellings do not always match the sounds in a simple way. Of course there is no need, in a family situation, reading at bedtime, to make these spellings explicit. An intelligent child will make the connection, and most will pick up the differences with continued repetition. Perhaps a passing comment might draw the child’s attention to the same sound, different spelling issue – maybe a comment or note of surprise – but for the family, reading is to be for fun.
You lay the foundation for the work of the school, but keep clear of rote learning and a didactic approach – unless of course your child demands it, or thrives in that environment.
Modern morals for children in stories
Tyrannosaurus Drip is also typical of a different kind of children’s picture book, in that unlike Moonlight, or Annie Rose Is My Little Sister (see the previous article on emotional themes in children’s books), it deals with moral issues, and with the experiences and inner life of the child not through realism, but through metaphor. This is a modern day retelling of the story of the ugly duckling, in which the egg is hatched by the wrong parent.
The child is able to identify with the sweetly comical illustrations, and with the theme of the book, which is fear of the strange, or the other – fear of the terrifying tyrannosaurus family, who are defeated by the narrative of the story so that the child can share in that victory, and gain confidence from it.
The fascination children feel for dinosaurs transcends fashion, and makes them a beautiful and imaginative vehicle to use in this way: a similar, but less complex example (and so more suitable for an even younger child) is Sylvia and Bird by Catharine Rayner, in which the theme of friendship is sensitively explored.
Why wouldn’t you read with your children!?
As we’ve read through the articles in this series (see below),we can see that reading with your child will fulfil all kinds of purposes from building family bonds and transmitting cultural and family values, to preparing children for school and enabling them to cope with the problems and issues of everyday living.
This article has attempted to go some way towards explaining how you should approach this significant experience with your child, and suggested some possible book choices. If you need further help a local bookshop will make suggestions, and there are many excellent books in print.
Look also for medal winners – the Kate Greenaway Award, established in 1955, is for excellent illustration (which a quick Amazon search will reveal) – and Catherine Rayner is a former winner of this prize. The standards are high.
Other articles in this series
- Part 1 – Bedtime stories and books for children
- part 2 – Building a story time routine and how to make the most of a picture book at bedtime
- Part 3 – Emotional and Behavioural themes in children’s books
- Part 4 – Using story time to help children with vocabulary and rhythm and rhyme (this page)