You’ve heard the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Did you realize a good picture book is worth a thousand lessons? Okay. Maybe not one thousand, but definitely more than you realize. If you have picture books in your home, a treasure trove of lessons wait for you. All you need is some creativity and basic materials you already have in your home. This list of ideas should give you a good start.
Picture books are great for our wiggly learners who need short, fun “lessons.”
- Use picture books to help your child learn to identify letters and numbers. Do a letter or number hunt together.
- Have your child count items on a page.
- Search for sounds. Have your child find objects that start with a certain letter sound. Let her tell you what sounds things in the book make.
- Identify common objects—animals, vehicles, community helpers, plants, cars, types of buildings, etc.
- Build fine motor skills with books that have moving parts—things your child has to pull, slide, and open.
Utilize picture books for therapy.
- Wordless picture books are great for children who have difficulty with emotions and expressions. Let them look at the picture and discuss what they think a person is feeling based on the picture. Exaggerated pictures help kids learn facial emotions faster.
- Talk through situations in stories to help a child strengthen theory of mind—thinking from another’s perspective.
- Build problem-solving skills via picture book stories. A child is unhappy. What can he do? What solution would be best?
- Use picture books with textures to help children overcome sensory defensiveness.
Create your own math lessons with picture books.
- Measure items in the book.
- Compare sizes of the items you measure.
- Make a graph based on the story.
- Search for perpendicular and parallel lines.
- Make up word problems related to the story. Better yet, have your child make up word problems for you, and you solve them. Have your child grade your answer.
- Hunt for different kinds of shapes—trapezoids, isosceles triangles, spheres.
- Discuss time in the story—morning, afternoon, evening, seasons. Draw clock faces to represent possible times when things happen.
Take the ho-hum out of science with picture books.
- Classify animals that appear in the book.
- Chart weather throughout the story.
- Use topical picture books to broaden your child’s understanding of a specific area of science. You can find lots of beautiful books that teach science concepts.
- Trace and color planets, animals, inventions, etc.
- Have your child read about a concept in a picture book, then create a comic strip that teaches about it.
Teach early literary criticism and more with picture books.
- Discuss popular literary devices, themes, and symbols. For example, how often do you find three of something? Is the color red being used to show a character or object’s power? Did the story come full circle? (Even young children can do this when you help them be aware.)
- Do a grammar scavenger hunt. Tell your child to look for a certain part of speech, type of sentence, or punctuation.
- Make a poster of all the different words an author uses instead of “said.”
- Use a variety of picture books to illustrate types of sentences and paragraph structure.
- Teach your child about alliteration, onomatopoeia, and other word play. Have her raise a hand, jump up, or yell out when she hears these in the story.
- Tell your child to hunt for a sentence or paragraph they like in the story. Tell them to copy it and illustrate it.
- Working on a specific spelling rule? Look for examples in picture books and write them down.
- Have your child rewrite the ending, add a character, or use the picture book as a model for his own version of the story.
- Let your child create a commercial-style book report of the book.
History and Geography
Bring people to life with powerful picture books.
- Strengthen map skills by having your child create a map for the story.
- Read picture-book biographies. Learn about the time period by discussing the pictures—clothing, housing, transportation, food, etc.
- Find a story’s location on the globe or on a map. Trace a map of the country.
- Make a simple timeline of the story.
- Use a Venn diagram to compare a story’s place in history to our modern day.
- Have your child think about what he would wear, eat, etc. back in that time period, and have him draw a related picture.
- Extend the culture from a picture book—cook some food from that country, listen to its music, discover favorite cultural pastimes and holidays.
Allow your child to explore her creative side through picture books.
- Ask your student what kind of music would go with the story. Make some instruments together. Let your child play them as you reread the picture book.
- Many picture books’ illustrations are created using a certain method; for example, cut and torn paper illustrations. Ask your child to make a picture using the same method.
- Let your child trace pictures he likes.
- Invite your child to build a favorite scene by using her building toys.
- Tell your child to draw a picture about the story while you read. He may create a new scene that is mentioned but not illustrated.
- Browse Pinterest to discover crafts and activities that correspond to the picture book you’re reading.
- Give your child a variety of art media to create her own illustration for the story or make a new book if she wants. Let her mix finger paint, fabric scraps, drawing with pastels, and pencil sketches.
- Add movement—let your child act out the story.
Now you have forty-five ideas for how to use picture books across your homeschool studies. It’s time to hit your bookshelves or the local library. Grab some paper and pen, sit with a pile of books, and let your inner teacher loose! You’ll be surprised at the fun lessons you create for your child, all with picture books.
Jenny Herman wants to live in a world where dark chocolate dispensers reside on every corner. As a homeschooling-special-needs mom, she's been featured in Autism Parenting Magazine, Wit and Wisdom from the Parents of Special Needs Kids: Mostly True Stories of Life on the Spectrum, and various blogs. Discover her tips for special-needs parenting, hands-on homeschooling, and pressing on at www.JennyHerman.com.
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