Inside: Simple Steps to Build Character with Books
Do you believe in the power of stories? A quick browse around Learning Through Literature shows the importance we place on this. In fact, it’s central to everything we do around here.
But what’s next? Knowing the power of a great story and knowing how to harness that power are two separate matters.
We want to help with both. Articles about the learning superpower of books and how stories reach a child’s heart are meant to inspire and motivate. Tools like our Book Finder help you find great books. Our guides help you use them in intentional ways.
And intention is what it all comes down to with harnessing story power, especially when it comes to character building. Sometimes we need a simple path to get us started in the right direction. In this article, we’ll explore three steps to begin using books to build character in children.
3 Simple Steps to Begin
Think of these steps as inspiration, rather than turn-by-turn directions that lead to a final destination. Every family might use them differently. We hope these ideas spark intentional character-building in ways that are meaningful for your family.
Here’s an easy path to begin building character in your home through stories:
- Read Together
- Explore & Experience Story-Related Elements
- Discuss the Story
Let’s look at what we mean by each of these steps.
1. Read Together
We hope you notice the word “together” in this first step. That’s important. This is not about assigning books to your kids and asking comprehension questions. We can’t emphasize this enough.
Be a partner in the process. The impact of your efforts will be greater if you do it together.
Where to begin? We suggest you start by choosing a character trait to be intentional about for a short time. The goal isn’t to pick a trait you see most lacking in your children. Instead, focus on inspiring them in an intentional way.
Once you have a character trait in mind, here’s what we suggest:
- Select a chapter book that illustrates the character trait. (Follow character development from initial conflict to story resolution)
- Choose a variety of related picture book stories to mix in. (Cover more ground on the topic with folk tales, myths, picture books, etc.)
- Pick some poems about the character trait to enjoy together. (Connect to the message in a creative way. Could be short, long, funny, inspiring, or one of each. Consider memorizing one.)
Dive in. Mix it up. Do it together!
2. Explore & Experience Story-Related Elements
This step could be considered optional, but highly recommended. Exploring story-related topics creates a stronger connection to what’s happening in the story. Dive deeper into a few topics such as time period, historical events, geography, culture, etc. Your kids will come away with a better understanding of the book, which makes the lessons they learn through it more memorable.
In addition, story-related projects or activities can dramatically impact a child’s memory of reading a book. An experience creates a memory peg around the book, and that means another strong connection to what they learned through the story. It also enriches your family connection time.
Simple Experience Examples
Here’s the best part. It doesn’t need to be complicated. A few fun, simple activities or projects are all you need to make the whole thing more memorable.
Some examples of story-related experiences:
- Try a recipe mentioned in the story
- Re-enact a favorite scene (with a few props and costumes for fun!)
- Attempt a skill or handcraft described in the story (such as weaving, whittling, gardening, etc.)
- Create a craft project inspired by the story or setting (like a craft stick raft)
- Draw or paint pictures inspired by the story
- Collect favorite quotes as you read and read them all together at the end
- Have a themed story celebration when you’re done
- Anything else you’re inspired to try!
Shared experiences like these, enjoyed together, create a strong family bond around books and ensure that lessons learned through them will continue to have an impact long after you finish reading.
3. Discuss the Story
The last step is all about connection: connecting stories to the character trait + connecting as a family while you discuss.
Stories do their own work to reach a child’s heart in ways we can’t manufacture and measure. However, discussions will help children make mental connections as they process what happened in the story and bring those thoughts and ideas to the surface. This, in turn, helps them retain what was read. (We call this narration.)
Discussion also helps children understand the value being placed on what was read. Setting aside time for conversation about stories shows them it was worthwhile. Doing it together creates family connection. Maybe everyone didn’t love a certain book. Or maybe it’s a new family favorite. Maybe everyone has different opinions about what happened in a specific chapter. Discuss and connect over it!
Here are some tips & suggestions:
- Make time for weekly discussion. (Set aside time each week to ask a few thought-provoking questions about what you read. Aim for open-ended questions rather than yes/no or comprehension questions. This will allow for a more meaningful discussion time.)
- Keep discussions short & sweet. (You’re aiming for connection…not literary analysis. Remember, the goal is connection! Ask what character traits they saw, why they think characters made certain choices, what would they have done in a situation. Pro tip: snacks keep everyone involved and interested.)
- Help navigate discussion as a partner in the process. (You experienced the stories with your children. Let them feel that in how you discuss – not as an authority testing comprehension, but as a partner alongside them.)
We hope these ideas encourage you to begin using great stories in intentional ways to help build character in your children!