Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Picture Books and Early Learning

Notes from Singapore Part 4: Our editor, Manasi Subramaniam, promises that this will be the last of her reminiscences on the Asian Festival of Children's Content (AFCC) 2011 held in Singapore last month. 

I really wanted to share this with the children's publishers, educators and young parents out there. One of the sessions I attended was on picture books and learning by Susan Harris Sharples, the former Dean of Education at Wheelock College, USA. Among several other very interesting things, Susan spoke about the importance of picture books in early childhood development. This is something that I think we all should recognise and take very seriously into account while considering a child's education and development.

Why is it important for a child to be exposed to good picture books? Aside from the obvious factors of imagination, creativity and artistic development, Susan talked about how a child connects words with pictures and automatically starts reading between the text - that is, the child sees things in the pictures that are not a part of the text, and begins to create a world that is not just textually depicted. Each picture is certainly worth a thousand words, says Susan, and for early readers, it's better to let the artwork do the real talking.

Susan added that the two questions that a publisher should ask before choosing a story are: ‘Will this story capture the child’s imagination and interest so that she will actually want to interact with the story?’ and ‘Do the illustrations go beyond the words so that each page is a world of discovery for the child each time she reads it?’

She also talked about the importance of holding a book in your hand while telling a story to a child. That’s the only way the child will actually go back to the book after hearing the story once. The oral tradition is one of retelling. But if we want a child to read, holding a book is the real key.

In another session, Susan made a presentation on supporting young children's writing development by encouraging developmental spelling was a well-researched and thought-provoking session, especially for people interested in early learning and development. Her entire presentation is available for download here.

Also read:
Part 1: 'Connecting with Connected Kids'
Part 2: 'Potato Chips and Arsenic'
Part 3: 'Asian Content for the World's Children'