Reading. The enjoyment of reading is not about finding the main idea or answering questions about the details in the text. It’s about being able to find the joy in reading a story that allows you to enter a new world while you connect with characters - characters that we end up getting to know like we would our friends! This is why I love reading. So, now that I have kids, I get to share this love of reading with them.
For us, the book doesn’t end when we turn the final page and close the back cover - the book lives in us, in our day, in our conversations. These beyond the book moments are where the true joy of reading that book comes out. When we think about our dreams, our fears, our day, our family and friends and then connect these moments to our book, we can better visualize and understand the story. These post-book interactions give us another space to further bring our books to life.
I want my children to see the joy in reading, the joy of sharing stories, so I often share my post-book thoughts, make up stories based on our readings, or share funny creative stories or songs based on the moments of our day. I share my thinking with my children while also getting them to create their own connections and share their own thoughts about the book. Beyond discussing the book, there are many post-book experiences that we can engage in to not only develop our love for reading, but also to practice some of the important skills of reading. So, here are a few ways that you can move beyond the reading and make those stories and moments come to life.
Building with Blocks
Block building is a time tested play activity that encompasses many important skills. From planning and design to mathematical skills of balance and measurement, children use their imagination to create various structures! So, how can I tie this into reading? Here are a few ideas:
Build the setting: When we read books, we discuss where and when the story is taking place. Building with blocks gives us a chance to recreate the setting of a book.
Create scenes from the book: We can choose a page in the book to rebuild with blocks. Recently we read a book and used block build to explore a fancy word.
Word work: When reading, we often run into words that we are unfamiliar with. Once we use the context clues and other tools to figure out what the word means, we could use building to support further understanding the word. For example, we recently read Big Umbrella and ran into the word shelter. We spoke about the word, and then we used our blocks to create shelters for different sized stuffed animals and toys.
Create the characters: We can choose a character to build or draw. Recently, with my children at home, we read several different versions of The Little Red Riding Hood and we built the characters.
Many of our books encourage us to dabble with art. The illustrations in picture books help bring the authors’ vision of their story to life. As young readers, we learn to read these pictures, follow it throughout the story and use it in our understanding. Even as more experienced readers, we use the visuals and pictures to better understand the text (especially nonfiction). So, how do I plan art projects from our books? When we read, I often think about how I can pull the art from the book. I think about how we could further explore the themes in the text and further enjoy the creative world we entered in the book. I consider the illustrations as well as the events themselves and ask myself, what can we do to further interact with this text? What can we do to further explore our creativity while discussing and connecting to the text. Here are a few examples of ones we have explored recently.
Sky Color by Peter Reynolds - after reading the book, create your own sky! Look at various pages from the book. Then go outside during several parts of the day to examine the sky. Jot down the things we notice. Make your own watercolors with food coloring looking to mimic the colors you saw.
Perfect Square by Micheal Hall - after reading the book, provide a perfect square cut out and challenge your students to think about what they can make with a perfect square!
10 Black Dots by Donald Crews - after reading the book, create your own picture with a chosen amount of black dots!
Wacky Wednesday by Dr. Seuss - Create your own Wacky Picture!!
Puppets and Readers’ Theater Retelling
After we read, we love to act out our stories and further explore the characters, their actions and emotions. We sometimes make finger puppets and act out the book! For younger readers, I read the line and then they read it. Eventually, they remember all the lines of the story and enjoy making it their own. Although we had a lot of fun making the puppets, we also take our beloved stuffed animals to act out stories. Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems are great books for this. And, if your house is anything like ours, you can finally repurpose the hundreds of stuffed animals that lay on the bed with their sole purpose to increase the amount of time it takes to actually make the bed (and of course provide comfort for your little ones) to become actors in the reenactment of our most loved adventures!
Creating with Loose Parts
We have so many random items around our house - caps from applesauce pouches, leaves, sticks, and acorns collected from walks, boxes from packages. All of these materials make great building materials and allow children to use their imaginations to create. Just like with art, many books lend themselves to creating with loose parts. Although children need little to no encouragement to play with open materials, there are books that do encourage us to create with these loose parts. For example, Christina Katerina and the Box by Patricia Lee Gauch encourage us to use our imagination to create and recreate a cardboard box into wonderful adventurous items, or Not a Box by Antoinette Portis which opens our imagination to the various things we can create. Or what about, Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg that encourages our imagination to take our mistakes and make it something beautiful.
How to get started? Definitely take some of these ideas (and share if you have other ones). But what has helped me is to curiously listen to my children as they talk about books. I often don’t have a plan until we are reading the book. Then, as we read, I curiously listen, I rest on their words and think about our mid-book discussions, the details they notice, the connections they make, the questions they have. Then, I ask myself, “How can I make this come to life for them while they practice some reading skills like retelling, characterization, and even themes?” I think where they might want to run with their ideas and what ways we could further explore their thoughts. I then think about how we could do that in a fun and engaging way! Once I think of a few ideas, I pose the invitation - something like....”Hmm, I'm wondering about…What if we…Wouldn’t that be so much fun?” Then we get to talking, they make my ideas better and off we go exploring the story beyond the book.
Hopefully this has inspired you to pick up a book and think about all it’s possibilities beyond cover and numbered pages. More than ever, we need stories to bring us the windows and mirrors to explore. As we are stuck in our homes, our own bubbles and surrounding space with minimal access to the outside world, we crave the windows to the world that books offer. Personally, my own children have yet to leave the front and back yards other than to ride their bikes around the block. So, let’s capitalize on story time, making it more than a bedtime routine, rather maybe a morning routine. A “start our day” routine where we read about another piece of our world (or a window to a dreamy world) and spend the rest of our day referring back to the book’s characters, events, world, and themes in a variety of playful and engaging ways!