Do you feel like your children or the children at your reading club don’t take proper care of the books around them? Books are expensive so it is understandable that we want them to last. How can we help our children learn to take good care of books so that they can be enjoyed over and over again? Here are five ways of doing this.
1. Grow a love of stories. Unless we give children the opportunity to learn to love stories, we cannot expect them to treat the books that hold these stories as treasures that need to be taken special care of. When you spend time reading stories with children, they soon learn to associate their enjoyment of these times with books.
2. Teach by example. We know that children learn more by watching what adults do than by listening to adults tell them what to do. So, if you don’t treat books well, you can’t expect children to do so! Encourage children to care for books by showing them how to do this. For example, when you are reading to them, turn the pages carefully, and when you have finished reading a story, return the book to its place on the bookshelf − and sometimes, ask your child to do this for you!
3. Expect what is reasonable. Children need to spend time looking at or reading books on their own because this helps them to understand how books work – an essential ingredient to learning to read. In fact, we don’t want our children’s books to look like they did when they first came from the shop because that would mean that they aren’t being used! It is natural for books that are read again and again to show signs of wear-and-tear after a while. What we need to encourage in our children is age-appropriate book behaviour. For example, it is completely “normal” for babies to chew the corners of books – because they tend to put everything into their mouths – but we wouldn’t expect three-year-olds to do this. And it is reasonable to expect seven-year-olds to turn the pages of a book gently, but many three-year-olds do not have enough fine motor co-ordination to do this yet – especially if they are engrossed in a story!
If there are special books that your children are not yet ready to manage on their own, then keep these books in a place where they cannot reach them. It is best to keep books with paper pages out of the reach of babies. Rather let them look at board books on their own because these are more difficult to destroy! Young children who are still developing fine motor co-ordination sometimes find it difficult to be careful with flap-books or pop-up books. Keep these books for special times when you share books together.
4. Create storage for books. One of the easiest ways to help children learn to take responsibility for the care of books, is to create special places to store them. Shelves, as well as decorated boxes and box lids, all make good places to keep books. At a reading club or in a classroom, you may wish to store the same types of books together. For example, you could keep all the information books together on one shelf or in a box; all the storybooks with a small amount of text in them in another place and then novels in a different place. At home, you could let each of your children keep some books that they especially enjoy in their own box and then keep books that the whole family enjoys in a separate box.
5. Don’t have too many rules. There is nothing that is more likely to kill children’s sense of wonderment about stories and books than dozens of rules about what they can and cannot do with books. Try to have a few simple rules that make sense to children and are easy for them to follow. For example, “Let’s keep water and things we drink away from books because if we spill on our books, they will get damaged.” Also, “Let’s make sure our hands are not sticky when we look at books because if some of the pages stick together we won’t be able to read the whole story!”
As with most things in life, learning to take care of books involves time, practice and encouragement. Children will learn this so much faster if they experience the pleasure that reading and books offer.