Do you know why wordless books are better for kids?

[Hint: You have to work harder!]

credit: maillustrations.com

It is well established that reading aloud to children aids their emotional and academic development in countless ways.

For example, shared reading experiences:

  • Promote language development
  • Engage brain areas that will later be used for independent reading, even in the youngest children
  • Create a positive association for reading and literacy, along with an emotional bond between the child and reader

The question addressed in this post is:

Do books without words benefit children?

The answer is a resounding YES.

Wordless books require thoughtful narration, because the reader can’t rely on text to tell the story. Readers must also be actively involved with both their listener and the illustrations. In fact:

Wordless picture books beat storybooks in four ways:

  1. They induce more complex language from readers.
  2. They foster storytelling skills.
  3. They promote bilingualism because they can be “read” in more than one language
  4. They can promote science and math skills.

Readers narrating picture books use more complex language

For example, they make comments like:

“Elephants can use their tusks to carry huge logs, and also to pick up tiny peanuts.”

In comparison, during pure reading, “extra-textual” comments tend to be more simplistic, for example:

“Yeah, the dog has long ears.”

Picture books also promote more talk about past and future tense. These relate both to comments relating to the story, and also beyond the story context. For example:

“What will the giraffe see when he looks over the trees?”
“Remember we saw a tiger at the zoo last week?”

Also, picture books evoke past and future tense predictions more often, both from the reader’s perspective and the child’s. For example:

“How will the zoo keeper keep the animals safe?”
“Do you remember what bears do during the winter?”

Lastly, more mental state talk occurs when narrating picture books. For example:

“How do you think the rabbit feels about the fox?”
“Why did the man stop before unlocking the big door?”

Picture books foster storytelling skills

Oral storytelling is important, as it promotes story comprehension, complex language, and creativity.

With wordless picture books, readers can narrate variations of the same story, or create wildly different stories.

They can change the beginning, middle, or end of a story, creating various cause and effect scenarios.

Older children can be challenged to create all sorts of stories: from the most believable to most creative, longest, zaniest, or UN-believable tale around.

Teams can collaborate to create stories fitting a particular category, challenging one another to create a winner.

Opportunities for storytelling are limited only to one’s imagination, and kids should have that in spades.


Picture books promote bilingualism

Because they lack text, picture book can be narrated in any language.

ESOL teachers can use picture books to bridge the language barrier in their students in many ways. For example, they can:

  • Teach simple vocabulary like colors, animals, and other nouns.
  • Promote more complex language by using the book to tell a simple story in the child’s native language and the language of study.
  • Bridge the home-school barrier in environments where parents are not comfortable in the language of instruction. Children benefit from using their native language as a tool to learn their 2nd language. They can retell stories they learn at school, and also learn nuances of their native language at home.

Science and mathematics skills can be taught through pictures (especially if you don’t stick to the script)

Science-learning is often relegated to the classroom, but resourceful parents can teach scientific thinking using picture books.

Observation skills can be taught to the youngest students, for example by using the picture book, “On My Beach There Are Many Pebbles,” which includes illustrations of stones on a beach. To encourage attention to detail, ask questions like, Which stone do you like? Can you find all the stones with spots? Do any of the stones look like animals? Like letters? If children have access to real stones, ask them to sort them into groups with similar attributes.

With a little creativity, picture books promote math skills

Look at the page below for example, from the beloved Curious George. Children learn counting, number identification, and the concept of sets.

By expanding on the text, however, parents can teach simple mathematics. Questions like the following get kids thinking:

“If the stuffed animals wanted to go for a boat ride, would all of the animals get their own boat?”
“If not, how many animals were left behind?”
“How many vehicles with four wheels does Curious George have?”
“Are there enough balls for each animal to have one? What about two?”
from “Curious George Learns to Count from 1 to 100

So before you relegate wordless picture books to the bottom of the heap, think about how they might be used to foster something new in your child. You might find a renewed interest in them as you recycle them again and again.

A picture, after all, is worth 1,000 words.

Examples of some wonderful wordless books:

If you found this interesting or learned anything new, please let me know by giving it 💚💚💚.