Last week, I completed a giveaway for Barefoot Books. They create AH-MAZING books, activity decks and games that encourage kids to learn more about the world around them.
My kids are big fans. Seriously. Just the other night, Big Roo was supposed to be sleep but instead was practicing yoga poses! We learned them from the book My Daddy is a Pretzel and he kept coming to the top of the stairs to show us his poses. Cute, right? (except for the “top of the stairs” part- that made me nervous).
I had a chance to interview Leah Lesser, group communications director at Barefoot Books. How important is make-believe? How can we instill good reading habits in our kids? Those answers and more are below. Ta-da! Enjoy the interview, you guys.
It’s chock-full of awesome tips and ideas.
How do you think books help kids learn about the world around them?
There is nothing like a story to spark children’s imaginations and help them learn about different places. When children see pictures of African animals, European castles, Egyptian Pyramids, Asian temples, or any other cultural scene with stories from these far-off lands, it transports them to these places. Sharing books together as a family is a perfect time to have conversations about the world and the unique ways that people live.
Asking your child questions like “What do you think people eat in Kenya?” or “How do you think it feels to ride a camel?” or “What do you think its like to Walk on the Great Wall of China?” can help them learn about different places and recognize that while each of us are different, at the heart, we also many similarities. Even at a very young age, children can learn about different animals, places, foods, clothing and customs through books. As children get bigger their ability to understand evolves and their learning grows and grows–it’s a magical time when children begin to read on their own and discover the world through books and stories based on their own (evolving) interests.
On your website, I really loved how Barefoot Books says “It’s about making the time for the make-believe and letting imagination run wild and free.” How important is this for kids in today’s world?
In today’s screen-filled and academic-test-oriented world, I think it’s more important than ever for families, educators, and other care-givers in children’s lives to help foster their imaginations and simply offer them the time to “just play.” One of the best ways children learn is through play. I see it with my own children when they come home after school. They love to learn but they also need to time to digest the world and learn about it on their own terms. The world can be a scary place and when children play they can control their world and make sense of it in a way that is comfortable for them.
Just yesterday my kids picked up a water hose and a few buckets and spent hours making a river in our backyard. They were carefree and merrily playing, and one of the things that I found so special is that they were also learning about how water flows and how mud soaks up water and how the grass feels different when it’s wet and muddy, and how many buckets of water it takes to make a river, and how buckets become heavy the more water is in them. They were learning but in a way that was very unique to them because they had time to imagine and explore on their own terms.
In addition to books, Barefoot Books also does activity decks, puzzles and other hands-on products. How do you feel kids learn differently through play?
Children are born to play, play is how they learn. When a baby watches its mother’s face and then mimics her expressions or when they start to play peek-a-boo as they get a little older, they are playing and learning about the world around them. They learn about different emotions by watching faces, and they learn about cause and effect and what happens when mommy’s face disappears when she hides under the blanket and then returns when she removes the blanket during peek-a-boo.
As children get older, their play evolves and they learn new things. Using Kids’ Garden activity deck, children learn how to grow a pizza garden, create painted rock creatures, measure worms and rainfall, and explore the earth in ways they may not have thought about before. One of the reasons we created activity decks to compliment some of our books is because hands-on fun extends the learning opportunities for children and helps bring books to life. After reading My Daddy is a Pretzel, families can then play with Yoga Pretzels or Yoga Planet and experience some of the yoga positions in the story and make up some new ones along the way. Sharing the story of Herb the Vegetarian Dragon helps teach children about vegetables and healthy eating and then when they make slurpy soup from Kids’ Kitchen it brings the story to life in new, different and memorable ways.
What makes you the most proud about working for Barefoot Books?
I love hearing how families and teachers are using our books to help children discover the world. Recently I received a beautiful note from a teacher in a public school in New York City who is using some of our sing-a-long stories in her special education classroom. She wrote that the stories and songs helped her students who were non-verbal with severe autism, talk for the first time. That was a very proud moment, and I’m fortunate that there are many stories like that, that I hear about often.
What tips do you have for moms who want to instill good reading habits in their kids?
A study was done many years ago that showed a direct correlation with the number of books in a family’s home to that of their child’s IQ level. The study showed that the more books a family has, the smarter their child.
Related to this, one of the biggest tips is to read your own books, newspapers or magazines in front of your child so they see that reading is a familiar, enjoyable, accessible activity that is part of the daily life of your family.
Another tip is that storytime isn’t just for bedtime. If your child is upset or needs a break, sit with them and read them a story. Sometimes I’ll read to our children at the breakfast table as a way to start the day off with a fun little story. Make use of your local library, especially with summer approaching. The library is a treasure trove for people of all ages, get in and explore! Many libraries have storytimes, craft times, reading programs, author events, and other fun ways to help people connect with books and the community. And children’s librarians are a very special group of people who always seem to have wonderful ideas for reading fun for children of all ages.
Finally, when your child is older and reading on their own, keep storytimes going. They will still cherish being read to by a parent or caregiver and it offers an important opportunity during the day to talk and learn from one another. There is nothing that can replace the special bond created when families share books and stories together, no matter what age the children are.
Don’t you just love their feel-good approach to reading and exploring the world? I encourage you to join Barefoot Books’s Facebook page for even more feel-goodiness.