Children's book activities bring depth to reading, (while reading brings depth to life!)

Copyright National Lilac Publishing, LLC

Children's book activities are great to do as whole group activities. Just the energy of others involved in the book and its project brings a sense of community to books and reading. Amy Rose and I have collaborated on even more children's book activities we’ve either used ourselves or seen work in schools, homes, and other organizations involving preschool through elementary school.

When done right, kids eagerly seek out more fiction, and pour over non-fiction books including books on history, nature and science.

Finding great books for children's book activities

Any book can be turned into one with meaningful book activities. And you may have come here with books already in mind (for that, see a little lower on the page). But for parents or others seeking but not accustomed to choosing books, here’s a little introduction.

Most books for kids are categorized as books for infants (board books safe for chewing), picture books (often more image than picture), illustrated books or storybooks (highly illustrated but with more text), first readers (easy reading for new readers), chapter books (seem more like "grown-up" books with less images which are often black and white), and then young adult novels, including graphic novels, and non-fiction. Naturally, there are great books that don't fall into any of these categories, but it helps to have a starting point so you can focus your search.

Choosing book themes for your children's book activities

Using children's nature books as an example, they come in many themes. Decide if you want those that are purely facts and non-fiction such as picture books that show the life cycle of a butterfly and how to plant a secret sunflower garden, or books that include poetry, fantasy or fictional stories that teach nature amidst rich literature. These books are less direct and not meant so much for returning to for reference, yet can more often speak to both hemispheres of the brain, and the information sinks in deeper.

Examples include the accurately depicted flowers in the Flower Fairy series, or the young adult novel, "Julie of the Wolves," where a young Eskimo girl finds herself having to survive with wolves for a short time, and during the riveting story, many new facts as well as incorrect myths about wolves are exposed in an unforgettable way.

A combination of both fiction and non-fiction is usually ideal for really learning a theme in depth. For example, a kids' non-fiction field guide on flowers paired with the Flower Fairy books.

Then think about your child or students’ interests or what you want to expose them to, and consider kids' nature books with themes on gardening, flowers, natural farming, rocks and geology, volcanoes, the weather, fire, specific bugs, birds, or other chosen animals, mountains or other natural eco-systems, the nature of other continents such as tropical rain forests or South Africa, etc.

Do pre-reading children's book activities

It’s been discovered that books for kids become even more appealing when real experiences related to the book(s) take place before reading. Using nature again as an example of pre-reading children's book activities, some experiments with children have found that getting kids interested in a particular segment of nature first, then offering them non-fiction children's nature books afterwards, turned the children into eager readers who devoured the books and asked for more.

In one situation, young kids were allowed make wings and pretend to be butterflies and birds, running around in a nature filled park. Then they were shown how to make the bird sounds, and shown real live birds when they spotted them. When finished, they spent hours looking over kids' nature books on birds and butterflies that were provided for them, no coaxing needed.

Set up related post-reading children's book activities

The reverse of the method above has other benefits. When reading either fiction or non-fiction, including historical fiction, then seeing an actual related location or animal or natural eco-system in real life afterwords can be almost as fascinating as watching a movie and then seeing the actual place where the movie was shot.

As examples, plant a butterfly garden or order a simple painted lady butterfly hatching kit after reading a butterfly book, set up a home weather station after a book on climate, go to a park with water fowl after a book on ducks or geese, go to a pick your own farm after a book on farming, make a science-experiment volcano or visit a real one after a book on volcanoes, take a hike to collect and press leaves after a book on trees, go to a zoo or wildlife refuge after a book on larger wild or exotic animals.

Dress up in clothing similar to the book’s characters and do short skits or just re-enact one or two of the actions the book’s characters took part in, such as eating a similar meal in a similar fashion. After reading “Huck Finn” and “Anne of Green Gables,” our students enjoyed an entire day at an historical one-room schoolhouse dressed in 1890’s garb playing marbles, jump rope, and bringing lunches in tin pales.

Set the stage for non-controlled children's book activities

With a “book kit or book treasure chest,” kids can freely use their own imaginations and apply what they read without pre-arranged activities. Collect safe raw materials related to the chosen books for kids, and either present them along with the books or after the book is finished. For example, with kids' nature books, give kids a variety of dress-up wings to come up with their own games about being bugs and birds, make a kit of various sea shells for them to categorize, stack and design with, collect a shoebox treasure chest full of various types of pretend wild birds (found at craft stores), offer a collection of colorful scarves and pinwheels to go with a book on the wind. Give older kids flower-pressing materials, a naturists' journal, or starter kits for collecting rocks, gems or lists of birds they've seen.

Collect second-hand clothing for a dress-up trunk with clothing similar to their book’s character and just let kids make up their own actions to go with it, or find trinkets the picture books or chapter books depicted (magic stones, magnifying glasses, Miss Muffet’s pretend spider, magician’s wands, etc.). Be sure not to present this as a reward for reading, but rather something that happened to come along in this particular instance.

Set up a library scavenger hunt

This is a fun children's book activity for anywhere from three to an entire classroom. In scavenger hunts, kids are given a list of items to find or facts to write down by a certain amount of time. Sometimes it’s a race against the clock or against other teams. In the case of the quietude needed in libraries, give plenty of time, and reward the accomplishment afterwards by seeing how many items on the list kids were able to come up with, then celebrating the victory. Scavenger items can include: The name of the latest Newbery winner, how many books on horses does this library have, who wrote “James and the Giant Peach,” what do monarch butterfly caterpillars eat, what’s the title of at least one book that shows how to make masks…

Use an instructional book for a high interest project

This children's book activity uses the book during the activity. Choose a project a kid can hardly resist that must follow instructions in a book, building a fort, making a kite, cooking outside or baking their favorite cake and having friends over, even though it’s not their birthday. If possible, do book projects together (or mentor a group of kids to do them more or less on their own). Kids can become addicted to building and making things with their own hands, and sometimes start hunting for more and more books with projects at the library and book store. Demonstrate yourself how you carefully read and follow instructions before leaping into the action.

Allow kids to make their own books

With the various library or online tutorials now available, adults can create a book-making workshop where children can make very inexpensive books by hand that actually look like the type of professionally published book found in a bookstore. This group activity allows kids to be book manufacturers with finished books that go beyond staples and construction paper, and are far superior to the "real" books kids send off for and receive in the mail, because they are making the books by hand themselves.

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