Tag Archives: literacy

Visual Literacy

By Molly Alexander

As winter approaches, we hope everyone enjoys some cozy days curled up with a good book. Picture books have the power to take us on adventures to imaginary landscapes, transporting us to new places and experiences. Picture books can be especially magical when we take the time to slow down and pay close attention to the illustrations. The art in picture books can inspire even the youngest reader to become an active participant in the creation of a story. 

You’ve probably heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” As one of our five senses, vision is relied upon to make sense of our world beginning in infancy. Young children can read pictures long before they can read words. Pictures have been used to tell stories throughout human history, from cave paintings, to ancient pottery and stained glass windows, all the way up to contemporary picture book art. Images tell stories and they should be read as carefully as any text. As children’s book author and illustrator Uri Shulevitz puts it, children’s book artists are “writing with pictures.” 

What happens when we slow down and take the time to look closely at illustrations? Looking closely helps us to see so much more than we may have noticed upon our first impression. When you engage with your child around illustrations, wonderful conversations can take place by asking simple questions such as “What do you notice? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we find?” 

Line, color, proportion, and shape play a central role in telling a story. Meaning and emotions can be conveyed through color, texture, and perspective. The design elements of picture books (size, orientation, use of space, borders and frames, etc.) also participate in the telling of a story. For example, in Jan Brett’s The Mitten, images along the borders are used to provide additional information and foreshadowing as the story unfolds. A square layout of a book such as A Good Day by Kevin Henkes can conjure feelings of safety and coziness, while a large vertical layout of a book like Madeline by Ludwig Bemelman creates the space for the viewer to experience the height of the Eiffel tower and the “old house in Paris covered in vines” as well as the smallness of Madeline.

Wordless picture books in particular show us how a story can be told through images alone. One of the most delightful aspects of wordless picture books is that they can be “read” by pre-readers and beginning readers, speakers of all languages, and illiterate or semi-literate adults who want to read with children. Simply exploring the illustrations on each page, discussing what you see, what the characters are doing and feeling, the setting, and sequence of events can lead to a rich shared family reading experience.

One of the most pleasurable aspects of focusing on illustrations with your child is getting a little window into their observations and thoughts! Every person brings their own prior visual experiences into how they understand an image. For example, one day shortly after Halloween, after many experiences playing with pumpkins, my toddler looked at the cover of I Like Me! By Nancy Carlson and announced, “She’s sitting on a green pumpkin!” Once you get into the practice of talking about what you see together, you will start to hear more and more of your child’s unique perspective.

Time spent noticing and appreciating the illustrations together in picture books will support your child’s development of visual literacy skills. The National Art Education Association describes visual literacy as the ability to interpret, comprehend, appreciate, use, and create visual media. Visual literacy is critical in helping us understand our world, especially since we are surrounded by visual images— on boxes of food, signs, murals, television, social media, emojis, the internet, etc. How can children learn to interpret images and make meaning out of them? Reading picture books together is a fantastic way to promote visual literacy skills. 

The next time you settle down with a book together, whether it’s a new title or a beloved old favorite, we encourage you to pay more attention to what the illustrations have to offer. We hope you discover something new to savor! Here are some recommendations for excellent wordless picture books:

The Red Book by Barbara Lehman

Draw! By Raúl Colón

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Flotsam by David Wiesner

A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka

If you’re feeling inspired to dig deeper into visual literacy, we encourage you to check out these wonderful resources:

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Literacy Outdoors!

By Molly Alexander

As the weather finally begins to get warmer and the sun sets later each day, here at Family Reading Partnership we are thinking about the connections between playing outdoors and literacy development!

There is a lot of talk right now about COVID-19 learning loss, especially reading skills in the early grades. Now more than ever we see the need for children to experience literacy learning outside of the classroom, and at the same time we recognize the need for parents and children to have time to de-stress amidst all the challenges of this past year. We are here to remind you that spending time playing outdoors can actually be beneficial to your child’s language and literacy development. 

Did you know that the gross motor skills that children develop when they swing from the monkey bars or climb trees form the basis for the fine motor skills that they will use to hold a writing utensil? When children move their bodies outdoors they develop physical skills that are actually stepping stones on the path to literacy development. You don’t need to have fancy playground equipment or anything special- just time outside running, jumping, swinging, and moving!

Spending time outdoors provides endless opportunities for speech and language learning. When you’re with your child outdoors you can support her language development by talking about what she is doing. For example, if she jumps high or runs fast or touches a bug gently, all the language you use to describe her actions will become concrete vocabulary words that she learns within the context of her experience. Learning in this way leads to long-lasting word comprehension because it is rooted in meaningful lived experience.

When playing outside, you can also engage in dialogue about the natural world around you. For example, “The wind is blowing” or “The mud feels sticky and gooey.” Ask your child what he notices and feels. Your child’s experiences outdoors can lead to language development that would not happen indoors because the ever-changing outdoor environment provides vast potential for actions, observations, sensory perceptions, challenges, feelings, and imagination. The sense of freedom and the active learning that take place outdoors can open a child’s mind to making new cognitive connections. Best of all? It’s joyful.

When it comes to how we learn, a child’s well-being, and a caregiver’s, is fundamental. Research shows that time outdoors improves attention span and reduces stress, leading to an optimal state of mind for learning. With all the stress over learning loss and all the pressure to catch up, it might be reassuring to remember that sometimes the best path forward is getting back to the basics. After all, the original meaning of kindergarten was children’s garden. Freidrich Froebel founded the first kindergarten in 1837 at a time when early childhood education did not yet exist, well before the advent of standardized testing and reading levels. Froebel believed that very young children had the ability to develop cognitive and emotional skills through education. However, the original concept was learning through active, hands-on experience with a teacher as a loving and attentive guide. So we hope you will get outside to connect, move, talk, play, and enjoy the moment- knowing that you are supporting your child’s learning at the same time!

If you’re looking for more ways to connect with literacy outdoors, our Story Walks are here for you! Take a walk through a book in parks within Tompkins County, NY. Children’s book pages mark the way along a path you can explore with your child. Family Reading Partnership just updated two of our books in time for spring and we hope you will check them out:

Daniel’s Good Day by Micha Archer is now on display in Enfield, located behind Enfield Elementary School starting in the apple orchard to the right of the school. Daniel’s neighbors always say, “Have a good day!” as he walks to Grandma’s house. Daniel decides to ask each of them, “What makes a good day for you?” He gets answers that reflect something important about each of their lives, and illuminate the value of the little things in life that give us joy. Archer’s mixed media illustrations create a vivid depiction of a lively community, and the pictures and text come together beautifully to tell the story of Daniel’s day.

Flower Garden by Eve Bunting is now on view in Dryden at the Jim Schug Trail, which can be accessed next to the Dryden Agway. Filled with excitement, a young girl and her dad pick out flowers and potting mix at the store and bring them home on the bus to create a window box as a birthday surprise for Mom. The rhyming text bounces along cheerfully and the bright oil paintings capture the vibrancy of a flower garden, even a small one.

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