Literacy for All: Getting Mental About Pictures

By Holly Engel-Smothers

Picture books from our childhood evoke warm, fuzzy feelings and can bring back a flood of memories. They remind us of some long lost friends: Winnie the Pooh, the “Goodnight Moon” bunny, Brown Bear. When we rediscover these classics, we can almost smell our childhood bedrooms, feel our blankies, and hear our own mom or dad reading to us.

But picture books are important for more than just the obvious “telling a story” reasons. They are not just for fun! The pictures in books are actually vital for children to learn to build mental pictures of a story. If we have a mental image of details from a story, then comprehension and understanding of the material are greatly increased.

One strategy to increase visual understanding and imaging of a story is to model using all five senses when looking at a picture. Some examples are:

“The rabbit smells the carrot soup.”

“The girl hears her daddy walking up the stairs.”

“The cat’s claws feel sharp.”

As your twins get closer to age two, they become more verbal and can put themselves in the place of characters to imagine their thoughts and feelings. There can be more conversation about what the characters in the book are doing and feeling. When discussing a picture, your two cuties may use simple “sign language” to indicate a smile for happiness, or hug themselves to indicate loving a pictured animal, or covering their ears to show that a pictured situation is loud, like in a circus or when a dog barks. Interpreting your twins’ ideas and reiterating them into sentences is a great way to increase vocabulary, listening skills, comprehension, and even bonding.

It isn’t advisable to make every page a “mini-lesson” in comprehension and visualization. When the situation, the book, and your twins present the right situation, then incorporate the five senses (or just one at the moment) to talk about a picture:

“What does the fish see?”

“What does the baby taste at lunch?”

“What does the bear hear on his walk?”

“What animal’s fur felt smooth when the girl touched it?”

“What does the mouse smell?”

At all ages, the importance of having a loving, pleasant experience is the first goal in literacy. The effort and time you put into reading time will not only create strong minds, but endearing memories for your sweet babies.

[NOTE: This article is one of many from parent educator and mom of twins (and a twingle), Holly Engel-Smothers, who will be sharing her wisdom and expertise on the subject of reading through this “Literacy for All” column, which will appear on a regular basis on TwinsTalk.]