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A Focus on Books

by Emma Davis on May 18

Books are a powerful part of our provision in Early Years, unlocking whole worlds through their pages, sparking curiosity and imagination from a young age. There are some ways in which we can harness this power, helping children develop a love of books and stories. This is important as having a love of books can impact on all other areas of learning within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and beyond, and promote understanding and acceptance. Focus and attention can be developed as children learn to listen, they develop comprehension skills, begin to understand that print carries meaning, build a bank of ideas for early writing and imaginary play and develop vocabulary. The power of a book can be observed in play as children use their imaginations to bring them to life, re-enacting scenes, taking on roles and developing ideas influenced by stories. This means the more we read to children, the more knowledge they have to use in their play.

By exposing children to a variety of books, fiction, non-fiction and poetry, we are opening the door to future learning. We enable them to make sense of the world around them, inspire talk and thinking about cultures, identity, and experiences, challenge stereotypes, help children cope with transitions and begin learning about different concepts. Books are also a tool for opening up conversations about emotions, developing emotional literacy skills which will last a lifetime.


Books in the environment…

We need to ensure that books hold a special place in the environment and are embraced throughout the provision. Books are definitely not just for story time! They can be a valuable part of your continuous provision, with books accompanying construction, role play, small world provocations, maths, writing spaces…everywhere. If children are able to see books as an everyday item, which are easily accessible to them, they are more likely to pick one up, showing an interest in the illustrations and often asking an adult to read it to them. This is especially important for children who may not have access to books at home.

The task of the adult as children self-select books as part of continuous provision is to role model and scaffold learning. Model how to hold the book the correct way up, how to carefully turn the pages one at a time, bring in language related to the book such as ‘cover’, ‘title’ and ‘end’, and how to use the book to prompt conversations.

It’s just as important to provide quiet, cosy nooks where children can retreat with a book, away from the noise of the rest of the setting. These spaces should be indoors and outdoors, and can be easily created with a bit of imagination. It’s good to include props to support book play near these cosy spaces, such as puppets, story spoons or stones, small world resources and soft toys – making sure that you reflect on how these represent diversity and challenge stereotypes, just as you would with the books themselves. These props can encourage children to independently bring stories to life in their play, developing communication and language, social play, role playing and thinking through ideas. They can support children with learning differences to access stories in new and different ways.


The joy of story time…

To bring books to life, children need enthusiastic, inspiring adults who value books and the learning potential they hold. These are the adults who read with enjoyment, drawing the children in and keeping their attention. The stories come to life through the words of the reader but for some this doesn’t always come naturally. It’s often a skill that can be learned with time and experience.

Although we often read stories to children throughout the day, in small groups as part of play, there will be times when the whole group joins together for a story. These are valuable times where we can really cultivate a love of books and stories. The first step is to prepare for story time. Quickly rushing around and grabbing the first book you see will not make for a happy, calm time where children get the most benefit from the book. Instead, plan ahead, choosing a book which you know well and is suitable for the age and stage of development of the children you will be reading to. Planning ahead will also enable you to make sure the books you choose are varied and broad in their themes and representation. The better we know a book, the more confidently we can read it and we won’t continually need to read the words – it will flow naturally as you bring it to life. You’re able to build excitement and tension as you know what will happen next, encouraging children to guess what’s on the next page. If you know the text, you will be aware of places where you can pause to let the children join in, and of the kinds of conversations you can prompt and support. Some children may need the presence of an additional practitioner to support and encourage their engagement with story time, depending on their individual needs.

Think about who you are reading to – their level of development, particular interests, or favourite books. For older pre-schoolers, you might consider picture books which are a little longer with several sentences on a page. Rhyming and repetitive refrains are fantastic for encouraging children to join in. Younger children may be more engaged by books which inspire interaction. Consider books with flaps, sensory aspects like feely parts and sounds and pop ups. In choosing the right book, you are more likely to get engagement and hold the children’s attention, making it a happy, positive time.

Watching a book read well is a magical experience as children are mesmerised and transfixed by the reader.  The adult has tuned in, understanding how to bring back the attention of children who can find it difficult to focus, how to involve children in the book and the skill of sensitively questioning. We should remember that reading and listening to a story should be a joy, without bombarding children with questions, putting them under pressure. Tuned in adults are aware of how to scaffold learning through a story and engage in sustained shared thinking.

The skills of reading also lie in our voices and how we use them. Stories can be brought to life as we give voices to characters, vary our tone, pitch, speed and volume, and create tension. We can make use of gestures and facial expressions to portray emotions and help children relate the words to how the characters are feeling.

Finally, an important consideration when reading a story to a group is the background noise. Adults who value story time will understand the need to limit distractions so will lower their voices and avoid conversations near where the story is being read. They will also appreciate the significance of this time and therefore will avoid disrupting the story for nappy changes, unless necessary of course. All children should be enabled to enjoy this precious time.


Inspiring reading in the home environment…

We understand and appreciate the potential of books for influencing children’s learning and development. Particularly important is the way they can impact on literacy in Early Years and beyond as children develop a bank of knowledge and ideas to inspire story writing. It is therefore just as valuable to promote a love of books and reading in the home environment. However, it is important to approach this with sensitivity, appreciating that not all children will have access to books at home.

Here are some ideas:

  • Encourage families to upload reviews of their favourite books on Tapestry, or whatever method you choose to use. Settings can share these with other families, giving them ideas of books which their children might enjoy. This can introduce you to new books too, including books in different languages or about all versions of family.
  • Don’t keep a good book to yourself! If there are books children are really interested in and enjoy, tell your families so they can purchase it or borrow from the library.
  • Contact your local library – they will often provide you with registration forms which you can pass on to families.
  • Consider setting up a mini library which families can easily access, particularly in light of COVID restrictions. Perhaps somewhere safe outside where families can choose books with their children at the beginning or end of a session.
  • Share videos of staff reading stories – this is especially good for bedtime stories!
  • Set up a bank of story sacks, which can be shared between setting and home.

Remember that the books and resources you make available to families should represent diversity and promote inclusivity, just as they would in the setting.


And finally….

Books inspire joy and we can influence this by the way we facilitate the environment and read books. Reading a story should never be a chore!


Emma Davis

Emma Davis is a Preschool Manager and qualified Early Years Teacher and Forest School Leader. She is also studying for her Masters in Education. She writes for TES, Teach Early Years, Nursery World and Early Years Educator, and is currently working on her first book for Routledge.