Children's books and learning go hand in hand for me. For ten years in a classroom, I structured entire units of learning around either mine or my class's favourite stories. Whether the kids were 11 years old or 4 years old, picture books and novels were always our leaping off point for learning. Now that I have kids of my own, that hasn't changed. Except we use books as a starting point for our play and exploration.
So why do we play with our books? Taking ideas or characters from a story and creating playful opportunities with them really helps deepen our understanding of what is going on in the text. Interacting with a book through a craft or sensory activity appeals to different learning types because it is now kinesthetic (hands on) as well as auditory (hearing) and visual (seeing). The more we understand, the more we tend to enjoy something.
Now I can't say this enough to parents - helping your child develop a love and joy of reading is one of the most important things you can do for them in life. It quite literally can level the playing field for their learning journey. Studies have proven that pupils who read for pleasure are at more of an advantage than pupils with parents who went to university. So KIDS WHO READ FOR FUN have an advantage that is FOUR TIMES GREATER than the advantage you already gain if you have a parent who attended higher education (read more from the study HERE). That stat just blows my mind every time I hear it.
So yeah, playing with books is a pretty big priority in our house. A few months back I was lucky to meet some other ladies online who also feel pretty similar. They value play as much as we do and like to get creative with their books. I wanted to highlight a few of them here so you can have even more places to turn to when you need bookish inspiration!
If you aren't on Instagram yet, my only question is why not? I know some people don't like sharing personal photos so they shy away from certain types of social media. These days though, social media is more like a massive resource bank and community group. You don't even have to share photos to take advantage. Want a recipe? Search a hashtag. Enjoy interior design? Search a hashtag. Want a suggestion for what to read next? Search a hashtag. Thinking about getting a tattoo? Search a hashtag.
Love these book inspired play ideas? Then try out the hashtag #bookishplay. It now has more than 2,000 tags on Instagram. Teri from @petitbookcorner (pictured above), gathered the group together and got the ball rolling with the #bookishplay tag. It really is a great way to find ideas for activities that you can pair up with books. Other great hashtags for book and play ideas are #bookinspiredplay, #beyondthebook, #bookactivity.
Do you have a favourite book and can't find an activity to go with it? Here are some simple ways to to design your own book inspired play.
1) Create, colour, make!
Art projects are one of the easiest ways to interact with books. In Teri's example above, they made the paper dolls from the story. For little ones, adults can always draw or cut the main shape and little hands can colour and decorate. In the example below from Lycie at The Paige Diaries, they used the beautiful illustrations in The Rainbow to inspire their art. You can simply colour a picture of a character or try to sketch in the style of the artist. You can sculpt an object from the story or build one out of paper. Possibilities are as endless as your art supplies!
2) Sensory trays
Little kids and big kids alike enjoy plunging their hands into interesting materials. Anyone who goes to preschool or has been to a play group will have experienced a water or sand table. They are always popular and not only because they appeal to the senses. Kids can scoop, pour, separate, cut, ball up, toss and crumble the materials. Don't stop at water and sand though. Try oats, like Lycie did (above right) to go along with Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Try stones, water beads, pine cones, corn kernels, cloud dough. Can you create a scene similar to one in a book? Add a toy or character similar to one in the book? Get creative and remind your little ones of the story as they play by using vocabulary from it or encouraging talk about the characters.
3) Story baskets & Invitations to play
An invitation to play is a sort of curated play space. You might choose a set of toys that go well with your story and leave them on a table with a book for your child to discover after a nap, before dinner (while you are making it!) or when they get up in the morning. If you can read the book again together, even better. Then let your little one explore what you have left for them. There might be finger puppets like Sian had out above, to go along with Little Red Riding Hood, or a cape for some imaginative play. We explored books about colour once and our invitations to play were simply a collection of toys that were the same colour. The important thing is to let your child lead the play and not to have expectations that they will fully recreate the story or build a masterpiece with the materials.
4) Invitation to create
Similar to above, an invitation to create is when you leave a set of materials out and allow kids to explore them as they choose. Jacqui at Playful Wren set up a lovely craft prompt to go with See You Later Alligator (above right). Depending on your child's age, they may just mush, stick, bend or fiddle what you left out. If they are a bit older or very craftily inclined they may create an amazing character from the story. The important part is that they are engaging with the story in any way they choose.
5) Review a concept
Often books present important concepts that you probably want to reinforce. It could be about kindness. Or part of a bedtime routine. Or a safety concept like waiting at traffic lights, like you can see Meg from Bedtime Stories Forevermore worked on in the picture (above right). Books are so valuable when it comes to learning life skills, so playing with those ideas and rehearsing them can really help our little people remember to use them.
6) Be the character!
This was one of my absolute favourite ways to make books come to life in the classroom - by doing what the character does! Think about what the character is doing in the story. Is there anything you can recreate together? Scroll back up to see how Teri put on a tea party to go along with The Tiger Who Came to Tea. Kim from Book Bairn (above) had her wee one try out new shells like in the story Norman's New Shell. My little guys loved writing invitations to post after reading Postman Bear. It might take a bit more thought and creativity to come up with, but this kind of play is one of the best.
So there are 6 ways to get started with your own book inspired play. We haven't even touched on bringing in more traditional learning like the alphabet and numbers. We'll leave that for another post but you can search one of the bookish hashtags we suggested and you'll see lots of ideas for those. Also, we've included a list of all the other #bookishplay participants from July below. Please do click through to their Instagram accounts for an absolute treasure chest of play ideas.
Hello! I'm Deb,
a book-toting mother of two and an elementary (primary) school teacher. I love making stories engaging and interactive for kids.
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