The benefits of picture books for upper elementary students

All of us have read picture books to our young children. No doubt you are probably one of those parents who started reading to your baby before they could even hold their head up. We pointed to pictures to read bedtime stories. We used these picture books to introduce early language skills, numbers, colors, and animals. But if we have graduated to chapter books, should we assume that picture books are simply a thing of the past? 

The answer is a resounding no! In fact, picture books are extremely important to children of all ages. Even if your child is reading independently, picture books continue to have real value. Picture books offer complex vocabulary and discuss rich, thought-provoking topics. They are a valuable teaching tool, introducing people and places and sensitive and complex subjects. They teach literacy and critical thinking skills. 

The power of pictures should not be underestimated. Instead it should be harnessed. That’s why we have incorporated picture books in all three levels of Learn + Live lessons. We believe in the value of picture books for kids of all ages, and we encourage all of you to enjoy the familiar feeling of curling up on the couch with a picture book as you learn about places, people, and things with your child. (Yes, even if your child is in Level 3!).

Here’s a quick breakdown of many of the benefits of continuing to read picture books throughout the elementary years.

Picture books feature complex vocabulary + literacy building

Picture books are obviously shorter than chapter books. Because of this, they often are able to capture children’s attention quickly and hold on to it throughout the story, even if the topic gets complicated. The vocabulary found in children’s books, especially those designed for older children, is typically rich and varied. It is often more complex and interesting than many chapter books designed for children who are independent readers. 

Additionally, pictures provide visual clues to help develop deeper understanding of words and story lines. They teach cause and effect relationships, and they develop story sense—meaning children learn the beginning, middle, and end of a story. Children can also analyze complex details in character development with the help of the illustrations. 

Picture books discuss deep topics + biographies + historical fiction

Picture books offer the opportunity to discuss historical topics, including sometimes sensitive and challenging themes in a manageable, easy-to-consume package. They can include STEM lessons designed to explain complex subjects to children. Stories can address emotional development and moral lessons to elementary aged readers in a familiar format. Some of our favorite picture books also introduce young readers to real people or stories based on true events. 

Learning about real historical personalities, written in a narrative style, makes these individuals very real to children. They are able to learn about them and also connect to the story with the help of pictures. The pictures help them go back in time and see places that are likely very different from their own environment while also learning about historical facts. 

Some picture books are written in a hybrid format, meaning they include a narrative style writing but also include fact bubbles or quotes that help older children make deeper connections and learn more about the topic. This style of picture book can help children learn about science, math, and history in an engaging way that a textbook could never accomplish. Even a chapter book on the same subject would likely be too detailed, difficult for a child to follow, and not suited for elementary age. 

The power of a picture

Studies show that illustrations in children’s books offer powerful teaching tools because pictures improve a child’s overall story comprehension and retelling ability. Pictures help sharpen their sequencing skills because the pictures remind the child of what happened in the story. Pictures also help students make predictions—they see the picture and start to mentally prepare for what the story will tell them. As the child listens to the words, they pair the ideas in the text with the illustrations for a deeper connection and stronger mental impression. Illustrations also provide background details and contextual cues that allow the child to “read between the lines,” providing more meaning to the story. And let’s not forget: Children love art! 

Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.

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