Helping kids with life lessons. Oh so important, but oh so exhausting. I don’t know about you, but I feel like my voice is an echo chamber. With the kids around 24/7 I feel like I am saying (and hearing) the same things over and over, suggesting solutions to the same old problems (friendship, anxiety, communication skills, girl drama, et al), and just overall sounding like a broken record.
Frankly, I am tired of hearing my own voice, so I know the 11-year-old is! With both of us in need of a break, it is time to bring out the *real* authority: books! Last spring, I wrote a post for the Big Universe Blog about teaching kids life lessons through story. With the sound of my voice ringing in my ears, it seems like a good time to pull this one out!
When I wrote this post, I was writing for a younger audience, hence the picture books that have life lessons. As you’ll see in my closing, I would love to get your suggestions on some books with life lessons, not just for younger kids, but books that will hit home with kids in 4th through 7th grade, too.
One of Those Life Lessons – Books are Mom’s Little Helper
As a Mom, I feel like the most over-used word in my vocabulary is “No” — followed closely by “Don’t.” I get tired of hearing myself say them, so I can imagine how weary my daughter is of listening to them. I’m sure its true for teachers, too.
Our job as parents and educators is to guide our children and help them make good choices. There is no way to eliminate “no” and “don’t” from our vocabulary, but it would be nice not to hear them so often. It would be nice to have an assistant to help with teaching the life lessons we’re trying to impart. That’s where books — especially picture books — come in handy.
There is no shortage of children’s picture books with stories whose intended purposes are to teach a specific life lesson, whether it is the ABCs of friendship or the XYZs of potty training. There is a book for just about anything we want to help a young child understand. The hard part is finding a book that gets the message across without beating the theme to death.
In books like No, David!
by David Shannon and No Biting!
by Karen Katz — both personal favorites — the lessons and expected behaviors are explicit.
Sometimes, though, it’s better to let the kids glean the lessons from the story and/or its illustrations. What’s With This Room?
by Tom Lichtenheld
is another example of the kind of book helps children learn by observing the wrong way to do things.
How can this help the “no”-weary parent or teacher?
- You aren’t the one saying “No.” Even though [name your character] says the exact same thing you do about being sloppy, kids will believe him or her first.
- The kids don’t hear “No.” The listener or young reader is looking at what happens and thinking about what’s going on. They are exploring the story by anticipating events or their consequences.
- Laughter can lighten the mood. Most of the time, these stories the events and consequences are exaggerated to make sure the life lessons aren’t missed.
Last but not least … the kids feel superior to the character! That little ego boost might just help their self-esteem and confidence enough to “act on” the message. The other plus is that they empathize with the characters and can suggest ways to make things better.
Often kids see themselves in the book character, but they don’t see themselves AS the book character. Because you are talking about a “third person,” you’ve eliminated the pressure your students may feel about the topic at hand.
In the child’s mind, you’ve separated the behavior from him or her, so he or she might be more interested in talking about choices and consequences.
Children’s book illustrators are an incredibly talented bunch. They often have secondary activities that aren’t directly related to the text in the images they create in children’s books. We have found stories that are just fun to read that have no specific life lesson at all, but which end up being stories where we can talk about behaviors.
For example, several years ago while I was reading the words about spending the day at the beach, my five-year-old was dissecting the illustration, talking about the child pouring sand over another child’s head. I hadn’t picked the book for “teaching,” but a life lesson was hiding in plain view … and best of all? I wasn’t the one who pointed out what was “wrong.”
Do you have any favorite books with life lessons that you’d recommend to other teachers and parents?