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Using design to create educative moments for your little ones

The author curates a list of books for the early-learning age group

Aman Misra | Published 05.07.22, 12:51 AM

Sourced by the correspondent

In their book Playing to Learn: The Role of Play in the Early Years, author and educator Sandra Smidt talks about the importance of play for children. Smidt says that play is “a way of being able to use hands-on or real or life-like situations to answer questions that arise in children’s heads as they constantly seek to make sense of their lives, experiences and feelings”.

Of late, children of all ages, particularly five and below, are caught in an endless yo-yo of online and offline classes. Moreover, digital technologies are no longer a question of choice but are in fact an integral part of our lives. Research also says that it is important to be cautious about screen-viewing by children below two years as they are in a critical developmental period of their life.


At the bookshop, we curated a list of books for the early-learning age group. This time we focused not on individual titles. The hope was to introduce children, parents and educators to a few prominent categories of toddler books. Use these as Smidt says to answer inquisitive questions from young ones. In the day and age of touchscreens, take a step back and consider these books as guidelines to direct children to “hands-on” real-life situations.

Finger Trail Books are useful for a childs’ hand-eye coordination and assist in encouraging imagination. Follow Me Around the World is a finger-maze book where kids trace the grooved paths, following the protagonist ‘Fox’ on a journey from continent to continent -— introduce toddlers to the Americas, Africa, Asia and beyond through recognizable landmarks and relatable characters in a lively manner.

Continuing with the imagination theme, Puppet Books help evoke a sense of communication and language for younger children. The Enormous Crocodile is a rendition of the famous story by Roald Dahl in a hardback finger-puppet book. Children can use their finger and thumb to help the hungry crocodile munch his way through the book. They are also introduced to original characters in the book — Roly-Poly Birds, Muggle-Wumps, and ‘little chidders’. Help little ones brainstorm and play-act with puppets. Storybooks also help springboard ideas for puppet play.

There is a handy tool called Baby Sight on the Internet that helps one visualise what the world looks like to infants between the ages of one and 12 months. For instance, a newborn child can see shades of grey in movement, light and shapes. This brings us to black-and-white books. Until six months, a baby’s eyesight is not fully developed. Experts recommend high-contrast, black-and-white books such as It Had to be You. This is a love poem from parent to child. It is described as poetry that your child can see. Books such as this are a stimulant for the development of the child’s visual system and help develop their optic nerves.

While most of the books on this list harbour some description of ‘embellished with dazzling illustrations’, few can match the visual spectacle that is simply titled Pop-Up Birds. Watch tiny hummingbirds explode across the pages, follow waddling penguins as they dive into the water and dance with pink flamingo on frozen ice. All sorts of birds come alive in this collection of books categorised as pop-up books. Research has shown that these books help improve cognitive ability for children.

Another great example of novelty books that evoke thinking in children are the Turn the Wheel books. As it suggests, toddlers can turn the wheel to create quirky combinations. While the series has many titles, Odd Jobs introduces young ones to different occupations. On turning the wheel, different each occupations come up. For instance, acrobat Louise on the trapeze uses a feather headdress. Meet characters such as Judge Tyson the Bison — can you find his wig? Other options on the wheel lead to hilarious results and sparks conversation to help recognise different professions in society.

Sound books are one of the more commonly known and popular categories in this segment. There are five early literacy practices — reading, writing, talking, playing and singing. Singing is important for phonological awareness and narrative skill amongst other benefits.

Consider introducing your toddler to ‘Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you hear?’ which is an interactive version of the beloved classic by Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle. ‘Boa Constrictor, Boa Constrictor, what do you hear? I hear an elephant trumpeting in my ear!’ Children can match the rhyme of the narrative with easy-to-identity buttons that make sounds of the character they are discussing.

Continuing on the animal kingdom theme, we meet Forest Friends that comes under the category Lift the Flap and Learn, which help kids run the show. Books have evolved to be engineered in newer ways. In Forest Friends, which is in fact one of the simpler kinds of lift-the-flap books, meet our friends owl, caterpillar, bee, and learn about their families and related ecosystems in a well-done introduction for toddlers. The curiosity of a child is stoked with flaps and also helps as a reinforcement aid.

Turning our attention to the sense of sight, consider Treasure Hunt for Kids which comes under the category of Board Books. This is a toddlers’ equivalent of Where’s Wally?, taking them through pages and pages of colourful illustrations where they can search, sort, and count pictures. The idea is to use an engaging title like this to start conversations around the seaside, jungle, horse show and other locations. The recognition and reinforcement goes a long way. This would be a good time to note that board books can be of many other kinds and not just limited to this treasure hunt. In fact, board books are probably the most common out of all toddler category books.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs comes under Story Board books. A classic childrens’ tale about a town called Chewandswallow where the food shops didn’t stock anything. Breakfast, lunch and dinner rained from the sky. Whatever the weather served is what they ate. What happens then, when the weather permanently becomes inclement? Read on to find out more. This classic board book from 1978 was turned into an animated movie in the last decade. It’s just good ol’ storytelling in a colourful format and a narrative that young ones won’t forget in a hurry.

We conclude these recommendations with some novelty titles. In recent time, Cloth/Soft books have been the rage. A popular theme is to build a narrative around a prominent city such as My first London Bus which is a baby’s first introduction to the sights and sounds of the city through a bus ride. The rhythmic nature of story adds to an intriguing design of the book, which can keep kids engaged for long periods of time. Made of cotton or polyester, these crinkly books are one of the best ways to introduce toddlers to different themes and stories.

Rod Campbell’s iconic Dear Zoo has been reimagined as a Buggy Book which can be attached to a toddler’s stroller. These are tiny board books with an attached strap. It’s worthwhile noting here that they are travel friendly and ‘buggy resistant’. Loaded with textures and colours, take a trip with Campbell to answer the question — ‘Has the zoo sent me the perfect pet?’ Interactive and innovative, this book that is available in practically every single format mentioned above are multi-sensory. Don’t let this list limit your toddler’s early reading experience. Every day there are new designs and more innovative books to help introduce young ones to novelty books that assist in their offline development.

In a review of Sandra Smidt’s book in the American Journal of Play, Mellisa A. Clawson says that Smidt draws from diverse cultures while exploring a child’s growth and development. Further, Clawson adds that these different viewpoints help support the idea that children’s play is not limited to early-childhood education. Across history and cultures and even today play has influenced children beyond early education. This monsoon, let that thought guide your toddler’s reading recommendations.

Aman Misra

Aman Misra

The author is a Ph.D. candidate in Journalism and Electronic media at the University of Tennessee Knoxville and runs the independently owned Storyteller Bookstore in Kolkata. Storyteller has an extensive collection of toddler titles and delivers globally. Get your book recommendations @storytellerkol on Twitter and Instagram.

Last updated on 05.07.22, 12:51 AM

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