More than Reading: Activities to Support Learning
Posted on November 25, 2021 by CHS
Reading with children is one of the most powerful ways to increase their vocabulary and understanding of how language works. Whether you are reading all the written words, or inventing a story based on the pictures, children will develop strong language and communication skills from these rich conversations. And the learning does not have to stop there! Books can also help introduce new concepts, inspire curiosity, and increase children’s awareness of people and places in the world.
When children engage in activities that are related to the books they read, they are able to make connections between written words and their experiences. This means they are learning more than just language. They are practicing skills that support their development in understanding math, science, technology, engineering, creative arts, nutrition, health, community, friendship, and so much more!
Below are four children’s books followed by learning activity ideas based upon each story. Visit your local public library to find and read these books with your child. Ask a librarian to help you choose books that are appropriate for your child and that include ideas for activities that you can do at home. As you read, pause on each page to allow your child to express ideas or ask questions. You can also initiate conversations by asking open-ended questions to encourage your child to practice critical thinking skills. Some questions to try are:
- What do you think will happen next?
- Why do you think they did that?
- What would you have done if this happened to you?
- How do you think that made them feel?
- What did you like about this story?
- How would you change this story?
Growing Vegetable Soup written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ©2004
Ages: infants to five
- Grow sprouts on a sponge: Begin by placing a wet (but not soaking wet) sponge on a plate. Press seeds into the holes of the sponge. Try seeds for radishes, alfalfa sprouts, or herbs as these tend to grow quickly. Place the sponge in a sunny spot inside and check it daily. Add a tablespoon of water onto the two long sides of the sponge each day. Once the plants begin to sprout, they can be moved to a pot with soil or planted in the ground.
- Experiment with measurement and estimation: In a small pot of soil, or an outdoor garden, invite children to dig some small, shallow holes. They can use a plastic twelve- or fifteen-inch ruler to measure the depth of the holes. Next, ask them to measure their hands, fingers, and arms. Talk about how they can use their fingers, hands, and arms to estimate sizes when they do not have a ruler.
- Explore fruits and vegetables: Invite children to taste a variety of fruits and vegetables. Offer the vegetables in three ways: raw, cooked, and paired with a dressing or dip. Children can wash them and cut them with plastic knives (with close supervision, ages four and up). Discuss how cooking or adding dip changes the flavors, textures, or colors of vegetables. Ask children to lift both fruits and vegetables to compare the different weights, and talk about the sizes, shapes, and colors of them. Make a chart or graph to write down which are fruits and which are vegetables, and to record children’s observations, ideas, and tasting preferences. Remember that even if it looks like a vegetable (cucumber, tomato), if it has seeds and grows above the ground it is usually a fruit.
- Trace vegetables: Place whole vegetables on top of drawing paper and invite children to trace around them with pencils, crayons, or markers. Place the vegetable in a box or bag. Ask children to pull out a vegetable and match it to the traced shape on the paper.
- Create vegetable puzzles: Take photos of vegetables, or search images online, and print them out. Cut each picture into two, four, or six squares to create puzzles. Discover links to printable vegetable puzzles in the Additional Resources section at the end of this blog.
- Make vegetable soup together: Use the recipe included at the end of the book or try one from Pre-K Pages.
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell and illustrated by Frane Lessac
Published by Charlesbridge, ©2018
Ages: three to seven
- Try one of our distance learning activities for supporting children in learning how to practice gratitude. Talk about the things you are grateful for in your own family. The book repeats the phrase “We are grateful” or “Ostsaliheliga.” Ask children what words or phrases they use, or have heard other people use, to express gratitude such as: thank you, you are helpful, or I appreciate you.
- Music: Some Native Americans use shakers (rattles) as rhythm instruments when they sing. Make shakers at home by filling a plastic container that has a lid (such as an empty water bottle) with dry beans, popcorn kernels, or small stones. Leave enough space for the contents to move around and create a shaking sound. Seal the lid tightly. You can also watch R. Carlos Nakai perform Native American flute music in this video.
- Explore the culture and language: As you read the book, use the pronunciation guide included to learn some words in the Cherokee language. The Cherokee Nation website offers free children’s activity books and posters to explore the Cherokee language further. When the book mentions a particular ceremony or celebration, pause to ask children if they practice a celebration that is similar. There is additional information about Cherokee culture at the end of the book.
- Learn about community: Ask children to identify community members in the book such as parents, grandmothers, and shell shakers. What roles do these people play in the community? What languages are spoken at home or in the community? Now take a walk in your own community. Ask children to observe who lives in their community and identify the social roles these people play every day.
- Build creativity by asking children to make pots out of clay or playdough: They can roll it into a ball, then press their thumb into the middle and pinch the sides to make a pot or bowl shape. Children can also make dolls out of cornhusks and string, or weave baskets.
- Cook Native American Frybread: Frybread was originally created by the Navajo Nation, and is now enjoyed by many other Native American tribes. It can be served sweet with powdered sugar and strawberries, or topped with beans, meat, or veggies. Recipe courtesy of Navajo Chef, Freddie Bitsoie.
Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, ©2018
Ages: four to eight
- Explore the Hispanic culture: In the beginning of the book the kitchen is decorated with square banners strung together on a string. Throughout the book there are pages that show the details of the banner squares. This paper cutting art is called Papel Picado, and it was created by Mexican artist Ignacio Lopez Aguado at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Watch this video by the Hispanic Society Museum and Library to learn how to make Papel Picado art with children. Learn more about Hispanic culture with these resources from PBS and visit the TruFluency Kids YouTube channel to discover ways to teach children to speak Spanish.
- Practice writing and critical thinking: Discuss how Carmela’s birthday is celebrated. How does growing older bring her new privileges and responsibilities? Identify the chores her older brother is responsible for and ask your children to make lists with pictures or words of their own responsibilities. In the book, the privilege is being able to go outside and visit different areas in the community without an adult. Ask children to share their thoughts about why that is a privilege. Ask them to draw or write a story about what their own wishes and hopes are for their next birthday.
- Engage in conversations about families, relationships, and emotions: Invite children to draw a picture of their family. Talk about how all families have things in common, but are also unique and different. Ask children to identify the different emotions that are expressed in the story. Ask them how the people in the story react to those emotions. For example, when Carmela notices that the sound of her jingling bracelets annoys her brother, she jingles them even more. Ask children why she does that and why she takes them off at the end of the story. Talk about how her brother responds to her falling off her scooter and why it is important to practice kindness toward each other.
- Learn about communities: Ask children to identify the members of Carmela’s community. How are they alike or different from the people in other stories, or in your own community? Invite children to draw a map of Carmela’s community. Help younger children write the names and places. There is no wrong way to draw the map, so let children be creative! Now take a walk with children through your own community and compare the similarities and differences. Drawing maps supports children in developing foundational math skills and comparing the similarities in objects, places, and people helps children understand diversity.
- Cook pancakes like the ones Carmela had for her birthday breakfast. Inspired Taste provides a recipe with photos and a video. You can also make corn tortillas (tortillas de maíz), which are a traditional Mexican flat bread. Watch this video to learn how to make corn tortillas.
- Get creative with math skills: In the book, Carmela helps her brother sort laundry in the laundromat. Invite children to practice math skills like one-to-one correspondence, counting, and color and shape identification by helping with laundry. By matching socks, folding sheets or large towels into square shapes, and folding hand towels into smaller square or rectangle shapes, children practice math skills and build independence.
The Dot written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Candlewick Press, ©2003
Ages: five to nine
- Use The Dot Song Motions Guide Video by Emily Arrow & Peter H. Reynolds to learn concepts from the story through music.
- Enjoy dot snack math: Ask children to count the dots on a graham cracker. Then they can add dots of yogurt on top of the cracker dots and enjoy the snack.
- Create dot art: Offer children white paper and pencils, crayons, markers, or water color paints. Invite them to create a picture or write words made entirely of dots.
- Go on a dot walk: Take a walk outside and look for dots and circles on flowers, leaves, signs, cement, dogs, cats, houses, and clothing.
- Explore textures and math: Gather old clothes, linens, towels, or other fabrics that have different colors, patterns, and textures. Use a circular cup, dish, or can and a black marker to trace circles on the fabrics. Make at least two dots that are the same and include different sized dots. Mix up the dots and ask children to match them, count them, or organize them into groups by color, pattern, size, or texture. Use the dots to practice addition and subtraction with children.
- Hop and jump on dots: Go outside and ask children to use sidewalk chalk to draw large circles on the sidewalk. They can draw a pattern of circles for playing hopscotch, or a trail of dots to follow. Encourage them to hop from one dot to the next, play hopscotch, or try jumping games like jumping four times on all the blue dots and three times on all the green.
“As parents, the most important thing we can do is read to our children early and often. Reading is the path to success in school and life. When children learn to love books, they learn to love learning.” - Laura Bush
- I Love Libraries: Visit this website to find your local library and learn about library services such as story hours and other events
- A to Z Teacher Stuff: Provides a list of children’s books with accompanying activities
- ABC’s of Literacy: Offers a list of children’s books with activity ideas
- Bilingual Kidspot: Literacy activity ideas for toddlers through kindergarten
- Book: Story S-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-r-s Activities to Expand Children's Favorite Books by Robert J. Canady and Shirley Raines (Gryphon House, 1989)
- Extension Alliance for Better Child Care: Discover how to plan activities based on books
- Gardening activities: Gardening Know How explains how to grow green onions (scallions) in a glass jar and Kid’s Gardening has resources for creating gardens with children
- Storyline Online: Hear children’s books being read by celebrated actors
- StoryTime Family: YouTube channel that features read along stories for children
- Tandem, Partners in Learning: YouTube Channel featuring read-aloud story times for children that can be accessed at any time
- Unite for Literacy: Read free digital books with children that are available with narration in multiple languages
- Vegetable and fruit puzzles: Visit Pre-K Pages to print free vegetable and fruit number puzzles or AMAX Kids to print free jigsaw puzzles