Reading with Alma
Yesterday my daughter Alma and I sat on the floor and read a story together. Reading is one of Alma's favorite activities. She especially enjoys turning the pages herself to reach the one she wants.
Last night she chose one of her most beloved books and immediately turned to a page that showed a picture of a dog. She pointed at the dog and then, looking at me for approval, pointed at our window. “That’s right”, I confirmed, “A few minutes ago we saw a dog through the window”. Alma smiled with a look of satisfaction and pride and I shared her excitement. She wanted to tell me that “she knows” and that “she remembers”, but for a 15-month-old toddler, whose vocabulary is only just forming, this is not a simple task and Alma found a way to use an alternative channel of communication. In her books she can find it all: familiar household items, animals whose sounds she can imitate, different types of vehicles we saw throughout the day… Everything is well mapped and Alma knows exactly where to find what.
Alma handed the book to me with determination, as if to say: “There, now you read it!”
True, I am the one who “reads” the story, but Alma is an attentive, alert participant who decides what happens no less than I do. Whenever we read together, she doesn't rest for a second. She turns pages, points, uses her hands for actions and makes sounds according to the illustrated scene.
Reading to toddlers has always been an invaluable tool for interaction. Books are a means for sparking conversation and developing communication skills. They allow toddlers to express themselves and us, as parents, to learn new things about them.
The book series “Where am I?” which was written and illustrated by Shulamit Serfaty-Engel, is ideal for these purposes. The books are not based on one continuous story that needs to be followed. In them, it is actually the toddler herself who sets the sequence by pointing to one object or another and by turning the pages back and forth. By following their child, the parents can get a glimpse into their children’s inner world - realize what their preferences are, what they remember, what things they like and what they choose to ignore.
The goal of the “Where am I?” series is spotting the object that appears on one page, in the illustration that appears on the following one. On the first page the item is isolated, while on the following one, it is presented as part of a scene, in its natural context.
A lot can be written about what the child can learn from this task – identifying, naming, generalizing and more. The most important thing is that the two objects are not identical, but merely similar. The fact that there are differences between the objects provides a source of interaction between the parent and the toddler. The parent can emphasize the various situations in which the objects appear and tell a story about whatever is happening in the picture. The parent can also add content to the picture by mentioning the colors, counting with the child, reminding her of a personal experience that is similar to the one described in the picture and in this way make the book more personal.
At bedtime Alma pulled out the “Where Am I?” book that focuses on household items. She turned to the page with the doll– once asleep and once awake. She pointed at the doll then put her finger on her lips and whispered “Shhhh…” and I completed “Shhhh, the doll is sleeping now”.