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Get Ahead Kids - Vol. 3, No. 3 - May/June 2011

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How Books Can Help When Your Child Starts School

By Hazel Edwards

Q. My child is starting school soon. How can reading a book help a child prepare for first day at school?

Reading-sharing is a great way to prepare a child for school. First timers are always a bit worried about going to a new place like school or kindergarten. So are parents.

That's why I wrote this when my children were small and 'playground'
was used in the title to cover school and kindergarten.

Not having a friend is the BIG worry. Not knowing what to do is another.

The cake-eating hippo is a big friend who has all the answers.

That's reassuring. Many children have imaginary friends as ways of coping with new situations.

School routines like uniforms, when are the breaks, what do you eat and MAKING FRIENDS are important. It helps to know what might happen.

At a time when parents are worried about their children learning to read and write, children's authors receive wonderful fan letters from very young readers as evidence that specific books have really mattered in a child's life.

Q. How should I read it?

Snuggle up and make the experience pleasurable. Re-read and use the pictures as prompts to talk about what happens in a school day. Getting dressed. Packing school lunch. Having a peg for your belongings. Going out to play. Using the play equipment. Listening to the teacher tell a story. Which is a favourite page? Why? Do funny voices.

The mischievous hippo openly disregards a few rules, but it always knows what to do.

My favourite is playing hide-and-seek where he is a bit too big to fit behind the tree.

Bibliotherapy is the fancy name for reading books that help you deal with problems. Starting school can be fun, not a problem. You just need a sense of humour and a character like the rooftop-cake eating hippo.
In the Year of the Potato, the hippo took potato cake as his special cake to school.

How to Read With Your Kids Checklist

Choose books YOU like
Have a big enough bag to carry the book with you
Use audio books in the car if you travel a lot, or spend much time chauffeuring
Try e-books on screen
Practice holding the book at an angle they can see
Look at the illustrations too. They are clues to the story.
Involve them by asking questions e.g. 'What sort of exercise do you think he was doing in the picture?
Accept all answers. Don't say 'No' or 'That's wrong.' Add, 'And why do you think that?' Remember that the book belongs to the reader's imagination too, as well as the creator.
Sub-text is what goes on underneath the story. Some kids 'get' it. Others do later.
'Why?', 'How?' and 'What do you think happened after the end of the story?' is a good start
If you have mixed aged children, start a family serial using a junior chapter book
Read a page turnabout, even if the interest level is a little low for the older children
Encourage funny voices for the dialogue.

Literacy & Numeracy Activity Ideas

Eat Your Words: bring a plate of food to share that is based on the title of a book (or a paper plate with the food drawn on it if any allergy problems) e.g. Icy poles or meringue for 'Antarctic Dad'.
Adopt a character with your name! Review a book where a character has your name and send the review to the author. E.g. Jack in Susanne Gervay's 'I am Jack', 'Zoe' in 'Muscles' or Zanzibar from 'Plato the Platypus Plumber (part-time)'
Book-finger puppets
T for Title Story: Link up lots of/ all the titles of one author into a story. Count how many you can include.
Be a TV interviewer and prepare five questions to ask your favourite character from your favourite book. Become your character and answer them.
Made a model from a story. For free downloadable polar ice ship model to make in connection with picture book 'Antarctic Dad'
Create a Compliments Jar as a gift. Write personal compliments on sticker and wrap around lolly or fruit e.g. You are a good reader. Put all compliments in a decorated jar.
Try reading a Braille picture book with your fingers
Check out an Auslan signed DVD for deaf kids, which has signed stories
Make up your own story from just pictures


Hazel Edwards is an author-educator who is passionate about encouraging children to read as a way of increasing their confidence and skills. She is an ambassador for literacy and for literature.

But an author's perspective is a little different from a parent, teacher or grandparent, because the picture book needs to be crafted in a way which appeals to a beginning reader or a child just starting school.

You just need a sense of humour and a character like the rooftop-cake eating hippo.

There's a Hippopotamus in the Playground Eating Cake by Hazel Edwards Illustrated by Deborah Niland is available from Penguin Books.

More Information

Hazel Edwards
2009 ASA Medal
2012 National Year of Reading Ambassador


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