Even as televisions and computers have become popular forms of entertainment, listening to stories continues to be a favorite activity for children. The benefits of reading with children are many. Stories engage the imagination more completely than other media. Reading and listening to stories both require a more active participation, and also expand the horizons of the reader and the listener. Storybooks are effective ways to spark children’s curiosity and make them attentive to new ideas.
Many fine storybooks are available for reading aloud to young children. When choosing books to share with children, be sure to consider both the images (art or photos) and the written content. The children will be looking carefully at the pictures as you read to them and will rely on the pictures to communicate important details of the story. Take time to notice the pictures and talk about them as you read.
When judging the age-appropriateness of the story, remember that children can comprehend language at a higher level than they can communicate. Preschoolers can follow story plots and dialogue, especially when supported by strong visual images.
The Books to Share feature [in the God Made Everything preschool program] helps catechists use storybooks in catechesis. These books can be used to introduce or reinforce the theme of the lesson. Some are classic stories that have been favorites of preschool children for many years. Some are newer books that entertain, teach, and introduce beginning reading skills. Look for these books at your local library or bookstore. Some may already be part of the storybook collections of the families in your preschool program.
Catechists can use these stories as a bridge between the children’s experiences and the themes of our faith. To do this effectively, introduce the story with one or two sentences to help the children understand the connection with the lesson. Consider this example using the book, Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert:
Today we are learning that God gives us good food to eat. As you listen to this story, Growing Vegetable Soup, think about which vegetables you like to eat.
After reading the story aloud, take time to allow the children to respond to the story in some way. Discuss details from the story to help the children uncover its meaning. Ask questions to relate the story to their own experiences, and to put their experiences in the context of faith. For example, “What is your favorite vegetable? How can you show thanks to God for giving us good food to eat?” The children can respond in conversation, or you might invite them to draw a picture as part of their response. You may then continue with the next step in your lesson plan.
Storybooks can also be effective ways to lead children to prayer. When considering a storybook for prayer, read it carefully and determine if you can talk comfortably about how the book connects with the faith theme, which will become the focus for prayer. Some stories do not lend themselves to this, perhaps because an aspect of the plot requires too much explanation or because something in the story (even a picture) distracts from prayer. If you are unable to connect the book with a focus for prayer, it is unlikely that you will be able to use it to lead the children to prayer. It may be a fine book for reading to the children, but it is not a book for prayer.
When using a book to lead to prayer, use the conversation described above as a preparation for prayer. Then lead the children in prayer, using simple prayer suggestions. Consider this example based on the theme, “God Made Food”:
After sharing the storybook with the children, invite them to respond to the story: “God made many good foods for us to eat. What are some good foods that God made?” Allow the children to respond. Then invite them to pray: “Let us now pray together to thank God for giving us good food to eat. Let’s sit very still and become quiet so we can pray.” Continue to make suggestions as needed to help the children prepare for prayer.
Guide the children in prayer, pausing to allow the children to pray quietly: “In your prayer, tell God about your favorite foods. God wants to hear what you like best. If you would like, tell God thank you for giving you good food to eat.”
When all have finished praying quietly, conclude the prayer by inviting the children to pray together, using a song they know or a familiar prayer that they have learned.