[If you need a refresher on what “soft skills” are and why they’re important for early child development visit my first post in the series. Thanks!]
I’ve lived abroad three times; four, if you count Canada (go, T.O.!). I lived in Ottobrunn, West Germany (it was still delineated at the time) when I was very young, spent a summer living with a family in Algorta, Spain in right after I graduated High School, and spent four months with a wonderful family in San José, Costa Rica, in my junior year of college. Each experience was unique and interesting, and very different from my “normal” life in the U.S. One thing I definitely learned was perspective: seeing things from another’s point of view.
The second “soft skill” I’d like to talk about helping young kids develop in storytime is perspective-taking. Everyone, kids and adults alike, can benefit from the ability to see things from another’s point of view, and understanding that just because something is different, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. “Flexible thinking” is the ability to make connections between our known world and the unknown; seeing similarities between the two.
We encourage this skill in a number of ways:
- Choosing a variety of books in storytime that are not only mirrors (reflect our audience’s experience) but also windows (allow them to see something outside their experience). I saw the impact of having books that are mirrors once when giving away books to a group of preschoolers; one young girl, when choosing her book, saw Anna Quinn’s Lola at the Library and, eyes wide, said “I want THAT one.” Lola in the book looked EXACTLY like this little girl. She was the only African-American child in that class and I’m sure wasn’t used to seeing herself represented in stories. But at that moment, she was, and her awe and happiness were clear. She matters. She’s worth having her story told in a book. This is why the “We Need Diverse Books” movement is so important. They say that the benefits of reading diverse books include:
- They reflect the world and people of the world
- They teach respect for all cultural groups
- They serve as a window and a mirror and as an example of how to interact in the world
- They show that despite differences, all people share common feelings and aspirations
- They can create a wider curiosity for the world
- They prepare children for the real world
- They enrich educational experiences
- Allowing children to assist in storytelling – pretending to be a character (“I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!”), moving like an animal, figuring out how a character would react, making predictions – all of these help children grow their imaginations and try out new roles in a safe place.
- We can ask lots of questions while reading a story that help a child think more deeply about the perspectives of others. For example, ask: “how is Bobby the same as you?” “Why do you think he feels sad?” “Have you ever felt sad? What made you feel sad?” My friend Melissa suggested asking “What would happen if you changed one thing in the story?” Preschools often talk about having children make connections when hearing stories. Text to text (connecting one book to another), text to self (connecting the book to one’s own experience), and text to world (connecting the book to the wider world they know). In storytime we can do the same, and encourage through questions.
How else might you encourage perspective-taking in storytime? How would you talk to parents about this skill? Please share your comments!