These Books are My Favorites to Read With Preschoolers
Aren't preschoolers the best?
I spent about a decade working almost exclusively with 3-5 year olds. As I've described in my post about things I'd like every CFY to know, preschoolers give you back any energy you put into your therapy with them; if you give them exuberance and silliness and fun, you will get giggles, enthusiasm, and engagement in return. There must be some complicated physics equation out there for this. Try it and you'll see.
In almost every speech therapy session with preschoolers, I try to include some shared book reading time. Sharing storybooks with young children can support so many language skills, including social communication, vocabulary knowledge, language comprehension, expressive language, and early literacy.
I believe in reading books with kids that they can understand. While this seems like a no-brainer, I often see people reading books like The Gruffalo to preschoolers; here's my post about why The Gruffalo is such a complicated book. Kids with language difficulties will need books with simple plots, simple vocabulary, and simple inter-character dynamics.
Below I will tell you which books have risen to the top of my pile of favorites after all these years, and I will explain why I like them so much. I have read each one of these books hundreds (thousands?) of times and can recite most of them by heart by now! Kids love them and want to hear them over and over. And as an SLP, they all have features I think are super valuable.
***Part 2 of this post, with another 5 books, will arrive in 2 weeks.***
1) Where's Spot? by Eric Hill
This is a sweet story of a mother/caregiver dog looking for her puppy. On an emotional level, most kids can relate to a caregiver looking for them, and this dynamic really captures their attention.
I often use this book with kids who have developed an aversion to books - this can happen when kids are being exposed to books that are too sophisticated for their age, or are being asked too many difficult questions about books while they are reading with a caregiver. Even kids who are averse to books enjoy the simple plot and lifting the flaps as we look for Spot.
I like this book because of its repetitiveness (early/delayed language learners benefit from hearing the same phrase structure over and over), its use of spatial concepts (behind, in, under, etc.), the opportunity to practice negation ("That's not Spot!"), and the animal vocabulary. You can also reinforce turn-taking and waiting before lifting the flaps.
There's a happy ending, and I think many kids can relate to that warm feeling of being united with a caregiver.
2) Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
This is a story about a cap-selling peddler whose caps are stolen and returned by mischievous monkeys.
I like this book for a few reasons. First, it can be the first time a preschooler ever realizes that there can be more than one word for the same thing - cap and hat.
Second, this book provides a great opportunity to play around with emotions; as the peddler gets angrier and angrier with the monkeys, he yells, stomps his feet, and throws his hat on the ground. I playfully act out the peddler's growing rage and, when done the right way, kids find it hilarious. We can practice our angry faces, sleeping faces, etc. along with the events in the book. This way of playing with emotions can make powerful ones, like anger, seem less scary for young children.
Third, there can be lots of extension activities you can do, such as coloring caps and stacking them in the same order as the peddler.
And finally, the "brown" hats in the book are actually yellow (at least in the version I have). I used to change the word to yellow as I read to kids to avoid any confusion, but my thoughts have evolved on this; confusion about something can actually be a great opportunity to ask questions and talk about disagreeing and probelm-solving.
3) The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
This is a story about a boy who enjoys a snowy day. I always bring this one out when it snows in New York City because snow storms and snowy sidewalks are big deals and very relatable for young children here.
This book is definitely one I save for my older preschoolers because the vocabulary and some of the concepts are a little more advanced. But I like it because it portrays exactly what a kid notices about snow - the footprints, the snowballs, the snow angels - and what a kid does with snow - slides in it, makes snowmen, and gets his socks all soggy. This is all compelling stuff for a 4 year-old!
The other thing I love about this book is the theory-of-mind concepts it illustrates, like waking up to realize something has changed overnight, thinking about outside when you're inside, thinking something will be there but discovering it isn't, and having dreams; many kids at this age are still trying to work out that dreams are not real, even though they feel like they are. This wonderful book provides so many interesting topics to discuss!
4) A Good Day by Kevin Henkes
This is a story about a few characters that go from having a bad day to having a great day.
I like this book because, while it has such a simple plot, it has all the basic story elements - characters, problems, and solutions.
Kids can learn to talk about cause and effect, i.e., the squirrel is sad because she dropped her nut.
The pictures are so clear and simple that preschoolers can use them to retell the whole story.
And kids can also explore the idea that even though something bad might happen, there are solutions and the sadness won't last forever.
5) The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle
This is my favorite Eric Carle book of all time. It's about a busy spider who works hard to build her web, even though various animals keep asking her to hang out with them.
I usually get some toy farm animals, a fence (lots of farm sets have one, or you can make a pretend fence, which is a good symbolic play skill), and I tape a plastic spider onto the fence so we can act out the story as I read. Preschoolers love doing this! Sometimes we can act out what the animals might say when the spider is too busy to answer like, "Okay, Spider, maybe later. Bye!", which gives my kids some practice for what to say when they get shut down by their peers!
The repetitive language in this story allows for some great practice for both asking questions ("Want to go for a ride?", "Want to eat some grass?", "Want to run in the meadow?", etc.), using the subjective pronoun SHE, and using present progressive -ing in the word spinning.
I've also used this book for some dynamic assessment; if a child doesn't know the word "web" before we read the book, it is repeated so many times in the story that I can watch for how many times the child needs to hear the word before they can remember it on their own.
The book also has a manageable number of higher-level words, like "meadow" and "pesty" and provides good reinforcement for animal vocabulary, animal sounds, and associations for what animals typically do (cows eat grass, pigs roll in mud, and ducks swim).
Do you have a favorite book you read with your preschool students? Leave a comment!
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