Children and Stories and Poems


As a caregiver you are aware of the needs of young children. You may even know about the four areas of development: physical, intellectual, emotional, and social. Maybe you do not know, however, that by reading stories and poems during your caregiving, you can help children grow. This section will help you learn about stories, books, and poems and teach you how to use them while caring for children of all ages.


Stories and poems can help children grow. Stories and poems can:

* help develop language;
* help develop children's imagination;
* help children cope with stress;
* provide a break from daily routines;
* help children relax;
* teach children about themselves and their worlds;
* help build children's interests and create new ones;
* help children think, make decisions, form judgments, and values; and
* teach children about art through picture book illustrations.

Reading stories and poems to children also can help them feel snug and secure as they sit on your lap or beside you. Some stories also can answer questions that children might have about serious subjects like anger, death, moving, or divorce. There are many things you can do to make reading experiences special, but first you should know more about children's literature.


Stories and poems are examples of the way words are organized in children's books. For example, stories can be told with written words, without words in picture books, and even with spoken words. You can make up stories or read ones that have been written down in books. You may want to think of children's books in three general categories.

- thinking or idea books
- story and poetry books
- information books

Thinking books help children learn about and understand things in their world. They are about such ideas as shapes, numbers, letters, and opposites (up and down, over and under, or light and dark). Thinking or idea books usually are designed to teach and are written for younger children.

Story books are exactly that. They tell stories. Children's stories have beginnings that make you want to read more. Their middles are exciting and usually have happy endings. Stories can be fact or fiction, about real-life people, or about make-believe worlds. Poetry also can tell stories. Poetry is like music to children's ears. They love the rhythm and rhyme of words put together in this way. Listening to poetry often soothes and relaxes them. As they listen to poems, they form pictures in their minds and think about their worlds. Some poetry is serious and some is silly. Younger children especially like rhymes with funny words in them.

Information books are like encyclopedias for children. For example, information books tell children what firefighters do, how spaceships are launched, how shoes are made and much more. Of course, many books are mixtures. A story book can be an information book or a thinking book at the same time.

Here are some other kinds of books.

- cloth or board books for babies
- wordless books
- pop-up picture books
- activity books


Before you choose a book, think about the children you will read to. What are their ages, what are they interested in, and what kind of personalities do they have? Do they have any troubles you could help them with by choosing a book that talks about that problem. For example; if a child's pet has just died, you could read a book that tells the story of how another child coped with the loss of a pet. *The Tenth Good Thing about Barney* is one to try.

When choosing books, look at the pictures. Will children like them? Are they well done? Look at the book's design. Is it easy to follow? Do the pictures go along with the story? Does the book have strong, likable characters? Will children become absorbed in the story and enjoy the book?

Always read the book first before reading it to children to be sure it is right for them and to help you get to know the story or poem better. If you are looking for a special book for a child, but do not know where to find it, ask the librarian at your public library.


Before you start to read, allow the child to get settled. Let children take as much time as they need to get comfortable. Some need more time than others. Hold children close to you while you read, either on your lap or by your side. This will make the story or poem even more special for them.

Of course, if you are reading to a group of children, you will not be able to hold them all on your lap! There are some things you can do to make reading to a group special. Be sure all of the children are settled and that everyone can see the pictures. Also, be sure you are not sitting with your back to a window or bright light. This could make it difficult for the children to see. Hold the book in front of you or at your side so the children can see the pictures as you read. This means you may have to read upside down!

Be sure there are no distracting noises such as television or radio in the background during story time, so that the children can direct all of their attention to the story or poem. As you read, be dramatic! Change the tone of your voice to fit each character. You can use your own voice for the main character, and a higher and lower voice for the other characters.

Remember not to read too fast. Stop reading now and then and ask the children "What do you think will happen next?" or "Where would you like to be in this picture?" Young children often want to talk about the pictures or about experiences they remember that relate to the book. Let them talk! It is not always important to read the story straight through without stopping, especially if a child wants to tell you something. You may get to know children better by listening to their stories. Often stories and pictures draw out strong emotions in children, and they need to talk about how they feel. Sometimes it is all right to read a story that is a little bit above the children's thinking level. This will challenge them to wonder and think more. It is not a good idea to read stories to children that might upset them emotionally. For instance, a scary story about monsters in the dark might upset a child who is afraid to go to bed at night. Young children do not yet know the difference between real and pretend, and they may believe that monsters live in their rooms.

Tell children who the author and illustrator are. Young children often do not realize that stories and poems are written by people. Allow some time after you read the story or poem for the child to talk about it.


Anytime is a good time to read, as long as the child is in a good mood and wants to hear a story. Children should not be forced to listen to a story if they do not want to. You can set aside at least one special story time each day, and let the children decide whether or not they want to use that time for reading.


You can help children enjoy books at any age. Even babies can have a good time with stories and poems! In this section, children's ages have been broken down into five stages to help you understand the needs of children in each age group and to help you know what kinds of books are right for each age.



Long before children can walk and talk they will listen closely to the rhythmic rise and fall of their caregiver's voice. Before 6 months, the baby's experience with stories and poems is closely tied to music and rhythm experiences. Babies older than 6 months still enjoy rhythmic sounds and repetition. Reading nursery rhymes and simple stories to babies will help develop their language skills and offer a change in the words and sounds they hear every day. Reading to babies also will help them learn to listen and to tell the difference between sounds.

Cloth and board books, simple story books, and wordless picture books offer babies something to feel, touch, look at, and think about. By looking at books, babies will learn that pictures have meaning. As you point out things in the pictures, they will begin to use their eyes to connect pictures with words.

A 6-month-old is ready to sit in your lap and can reach out to touch and feel the book as you point to the pictures. By 9 months, most babies will try to help you turn the pages. Turning the pages of a think board book will help infants feel good about what they can do, as well as help develop their small muscle coordination. Choose a book with a short, simple story and a lot of rhythm and repeated words and phrases.

Books for Infants

Thinking books, simple story books, nursery rhymes, poems, wordless picture books, cloth and board books are good choices for babies. Young infants will enjoy picture books made of cloth or cardboard that have pictures of things they know. They like eye catching colors such as red, blue, or yellow, and pictures with high contrast like simple black and white drawings. Identification books, such as Richard Scarry's *Best Word Book Ever*, are good for older infants. From about 15 months to 18 months, you can start to read simple stories with plots to the children you care for. Books that children can take part in, like Pat the Bunny, delight older babies. Thinking books that introduce ideas like up/down, in/out, big/little, and over/under are good for older infants as well.

Ask for these and other books at your local library:

*Baby's Things*, A Platt & Munk Perma-Life Book
*Best Word Book Ever*, Scarry
*Cat in the Hat Dictionary*, Seuss
*Count Up*, Burmingham
*First Word Book*, Scarry
*Monkey See, Monkey Do*, Oxenburry
*Pat the Bunny*, Kunhardt
*Rhymes Around the Day*, Ormerod
*The Animals of the Farm*, Little Golden Book
*Tickle the Pig*, Kunhardt

How you can help

Infants do not have long attention spans so keep your reading activities short and fun. It also is a good idea to have books on low shelves so babies can reach them when they want. Try reading or reciting poetry and rhymes or doing finger plays during bath or feeding time. Remember that children of this age love to have things repeated over and over, so be willing to recite the same rhyme a number of different times. Soon babies will respond to the different tones and rhythms and may try to repeat the rhyme or do the finger play along with you.

Finger plays are poems, rhymes or songs with finger motions. There are many books available with examples of finger plays in them. Some are listed in the resources.


Children this age like stories. Their attention spans are still quite short, so you will want to choose stories that are fairly simple. Because children this age do not have good memories, they like to have the same rhyme or poem repeated over and over. Stories that have the same word or phrase repeated throughout also delight this age group. Soon you will be able to see their faces light up with joy and anticipation. Repetition will help develop their memory and language skills.

Toddlers are learning about feelings. They are learning when it is all right to show how they feel. For example, they are learning that it is natural to feel angry sometimes, but that it is not all right to hit or punch others because they are mad. Since toddlers are becoming aware of feelings, they like to hear stories about them. They also are forming self-concepts and like to hear stories about toddlers who feel just like they do. Books that teach about body parts, or people who are like those they know (like mothers, fathers, store-keepers, and pets) will help them learn about themselves and their worlds.

Because their small muscles, like those in their hands, are now more developed, toddlers can turn the thin pages of regular picture books. They should be allowed to do this because it makes them feel in control. At this age, they are able to see more things in the pictures. This is the time to let children look at the pictures for a longer time and talk to you about what they see.Children this age "read" the pictures. The best books for this age are well designed and have clear, uncluttered pages with lots of color to spur their imaginations.

The older children in this age group are beginning to know the difference between real and pretend, and think stories about dressed up and talking animals are great. After such a story you may want to ask, "Was that real or pretend?" You need not make a big deal about the difference between the two.

Toddlers always are active and are coordinated enough to enjoy pop-up books and other books they can take part in. They are still learning about ideas like up/down and in/out, so those books are appropriate now. Two-year-olds are ready to hear books about colors and shapes, and 3-year-olds are ready to hear about numbers and letters.

Books for Toddlers

Thinking and information books as well as short stories are good for this age group. Picture books, with one thing on a page (such as a picture of shoes or a key ring) are good. Children can recognize these pictures, name them, and begin to learn about words. Counting, alphabet, and touch-and-see books also are favorites.

Toddlers also enjoy books about true things told in story form, or pretend stories like those about talking animals. Mother Goose and Richard Scarry books are favorites now.

Ask for these and other books at your favorite library:

*Blueberries for Sale*, McCloskey
*Do You Know What I'll Do?*, Zolotow
*Even if I Did Something Awful*, Hazen
*Feelings*, Dunn
*Goodnight Moon*, Brown
*Grandfather and I*, Buckley
*Let's Go Shopping*, Golden Book
*Make Way for Ducklings*, McCloskey
*Me - A Book of Poems*, Hopkins
*My Friend the Babysitter*, Watson
*Picnic*, McCully
*The Giant Nursery Book of Things That Go*, Zoffo
*The Peter Rabbit Pop-Up Book*, Potter
*Whose Mouse Are You?*, Arnego

How you can help

Choose books that are short enough to be read in one sitting, and that have happy endings. Since toddlers are unable to understand other people's point of view, you may want to substitute their names for the names of the main characters in the stories or poems. This will make them feel important and good about themselves. Another way to make them feel special is to hold them close during story time.

Toddlerhood is a time for exploring. You can help them do this by choosing books about the experiences that children (or even animals) have in the real world while they are away from parents and caregivers. Toddlers want independence, although, at this stage, they are not always able to handle much freedom. The stories you choose about exploring should be ones that will help them adjust to new and sometimes frightening experiences in their world.

Two- and 3-year-olds are talkative and have good imaginations. They will have many things to tell you during story time! As a caregiver, you can help by being a good listener.


Four- and 5-year-olds enjoy stories about things they know. They also like to hear things repeated and enjoy rhythm and rhyme. By now their attention span is more developed and they are able to listen to longer books. You can choose a book with short chapters and read one or two at a time. You might even read a new chapter each time you care for the children.

Preschoolers often memorize words to a favorite book and can "read" the story out loud. They use the pictures as clues to help them remember the words. This is their first step in learning to read. Give them lots of encouragement.

Four-year-olds have a great sense of humor and are curious about people and the world around them. They like to talk and tell "tall tales." They also love silly language, riddles, and non-sense rhymes. Sometimes they will even make up their own nonsense rhymes and exaggerated stories to test their language skills. (They are not "lying", just testing their knowledge of real and pretend.)

Five-year-olds are interested in their families, schools, and neighborhoods, and ask many questions beginning with "how" and "why." Choose books about how things are made or done and why things happen. You may want to think of 5-year-olds as little scientists, always asking questions and testing things out.

Four- and 5-year-olds are forming real friendships for the first time, so stories about friends are meaningful to them. Preschoolers also are beginning to have a sense of rules and justice. They are interested in stories about fairness. They also like stories in which the characters make choices and decisions and get involved in confusing situations. Preschoolers also can learn from stories and poems that portray changes in time since their sense of time is not yet developed.

As a caregiver, it is important for you to remember that 4-and 5-year-olds want to be independent, but still are in need of warmth and security. Books about happy family relationships make them feel good. There are many quality books in libraries and stories today about single parent families, stepfamilies, working mothers, and even grandparents. Be sensitive to the kind of families that the children you care for are growing up in!

Books for Preschoolers

Preschoolers enjoy information books and story books, both realistic and fantasy. Non-fiction books about dinosaurs, insects,rocks, foreign countries, and other subjects that interest them are favorites. They also like realistic stories about their worlds of home and community. Try reading stories about real-life children and places.

The silly language and nonsense of Dr. Seuss books also are perfect for this age. Other favorite topics are first experiences (like a first visit to the dentist), family relationships, funny and wild stories, books about weather and seasons, feelings, nature, and animals.

Ask for these and other books at your local library:

*A Child's Garden of Verses*, Stevenson
*Berenstein Bears and the Sitter*, Berenstein
*Corduroy*, Freeman
*Little Bear*, Minark
*Mary Poppins*, Travers
*May I Bring a Friend*, DeRegniers
*Me: A Book of Poems*, Hopkins
*Mike's House*, Sauer
*Mommies at Work*, Merriam
*Over the River and Through the Woods*, Child
*Poems to Read to the Very Young*, Frank
*The Growing Story*, Krause
*The Frances Books*, Hoban
*The Tenth Good Thing About Barney*, Viorst
*Walter the Lazy Mouse*, Flack
*What Can You Do with a Shoe*, De Regniers
*What's That Noise*, Kauffman
*Where the Wild Things Are*, Sendak
*Winnie the Pooh*, Milne
*Yertle the Turtle*, Seuss

How you can help

You can help by listening to 4-year-olds' "tall tales" without being critical, and by reading fantasy stories such as *Where the Wild Things Are* to satisfy their yen for the outlandish. You also can help by making an effort to answer 5-year-olds' questions. If you do not know the answer, you may say, "I do not know the answer to that, but let's find a book about it." With the parents' permission, you might plan a trip to the library to find the answer.

To help preschoolers become better thinkers and problem solvers, you can choose stories in which the main character makes a decision. You also can encourage children to talk about or retell stories in their own words and tell you about decisions they have made. Remember how dramatic they can be!

Play silly word games with 4- and 5-year-olds to help develop their language skills. See who can make up the silliest nonsense rhymes. Tell some stories with big words.


Six- to 9-year-olds have longer attention spans. They love to solve puzzles and mysteries and enjoy stories about adventures. The younger children in this age group are learning to read while the older ones may already be reading well. Most children this age have large vocabularies and become good thinkers and problem solvers.

Unlike younger children, 6- to 9-year-olds understand that others may think and feel differently than they do. This is the age that children really want to please adults and caregivers by completing jobs they have been asked to do. They enjoy trying to read more books than their friends, and often compete with their friends in "reading races." Maybe you can get one started while you are involved with this age group.

Children this age also are curious about other people and places. They want to hear about other lands and what life was like a long time ago. They are beginning to recognize their own values and are interested in comparing themselves with others. Usually, they see behavior as either right or wrong and often demand that rules be followed, no matter what!

Children in early elementary school have a terrific sense of humor. They enjoy unlikely situations, stories about triumphs of others, and slapstick comedy. Often these children are sensitive to criticism and their feelings are easily hurt. It is important to them to be accepted by their friends. You can help them feel accepted by reading books about new subjects they can share with their friends.

Favorite topics for this age to read include stories about other lands, outer space, famous people, humor, family relationships, feelings, hobbies, mysteries, spooks and ghosts, sharks, and fast-moving adventures.

Books for Early School-Age Children

Ask for these other books at your favorite library:

*A Book of Astronauts for You*, Branley
*A Little House of Your Own*, De Regniers
*Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day*, Viorst
*Mrs. Piggle Wiggle*, MacDonald
*One Morning in Maine*, McCloskey
*Madeline*, Bemelmans
*Amelia Bedelia*, Parish
*Cinderella*, Brown
*Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet*, Cameron
*The Cat in the Hat*, Seuss
*The Columbus Story*, Dalgliesh
*The Little House*, Buton
*The Man Who Didn't Wash His Dishes*, Karsilovsky
*The Sorely Trying Day*, Hoban
*Walter the Lazy Mouse*, Flack
*William Penn*, Aliki


Children of this age are learning to read and write. You can help by making reading an enjoyable experience! Offer children lots of different stories and the opportunities to choose the books they want to read. This is a great time to take children to the library if you have their parents' permission.

The interests of boys and girls begin to differ now. Boys are likely to prefer books about boys. They like adventure, sports, science, and history stories. Girls tend to like stories about other girls. They like mysteries, fantasies, and adventure stories about girls. Children this age have individual interests. Knowing the child you care for will be your best help in choosing the right book.




1. With the parents' permission, take the child on a trip to the local library. Try to go when there is a story time being offered by the librarian or another volunteer.

2. Keep a list or a file of the books you have chosen to read to children. Include the title, author, illustrator, children's age level, and the children's responses to the story. You also might note what the book is about and any special props or techniques you used that made the book more interesting.

3. Make a display or prepare a poster that shows how to read to one child and how to read to a group of children. Include tips for caregivers about how to hold a child's attention while reading.

4. Write a short story or a poem yourself. Tell what age group it is for and how you got your idea.

5. Make your own picture books with children. Things you will need: heavy paper or cloth (denim, burlap), thread, pictures, paste, scissors, needle - be careful with this when you are around young children!

Cut two or more pieces of cloth the same size. Put the pieces in a stack and sew them together along one side to make a bookwith pages. Cut out pictures from magazines, calendars, and cards. Put paste on the backs of the pictures (be sure to get it in the corners) and paste one picture on each page. Rub it smooth with your fingers or press it flat with something heavy. Let the paste dry. Let the children decorate the cover of the book.

6. Try to find many pictures of the same subject. You can make a bird book, a horse book, or a book about whatever the children are interested in. If you are making a cat book, for example, you could cut the cover and pages in the shape of a cat. The children can even make books about themselves. Use pictures of them instead of magazine pictures.

7. Ask the children to tell you a story they have made up. Write this down on paper, and let them draw pictures to illustrate it.

8. Use a tape recorder and record some of your favorite books. Play the recordings for the children, and let them listen or act out the story. You also can record the children reading or telling stories of their own.

9. Children have fun re-telling stories using puppets. You can make a puppet theatre out of a large box. Cut a square hole in the side or bottom for a stage. Place it on a table and hide behind it so others can only see the puppets. You might want to cover the table with a blanket to hide the children's legs or bodies. You can make puppets yourselves. You will need: lunch-sized paper bags, colored paper, yarn or string, crayons or paints, a pencil, and paste. You also can make puppets out of old socks and pieces of cloth.

Open the bag and plan where you will place the puppet's eyes, nose, and mouth. Close the bag and draw the face with pencil. Remember not to draw the eyes too high so there will be room for the forehead and hair. Allow enough space at the bottom to tie the bag on your wrist. Color, paint, or glue pieces on for eyes, nose, and mouth. You also can glue on ears that stick out. For hair, glue on colored yarn or paper strips. Put the bag over your hand, and tie it at the wrist with yarn or string. Now you have a story book character!

Keep in mind that 2- and 3-year-olds will not do perfect work. Let them do most of the work, but you may want to cut out the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, and let the children glue them on.

10. Read a book like *Where the Wild Things Are*, and have the children make masks out of large paper bags to look like the "wild things." The children can wear masks over their heads (remember to cut out eye holes so they can see) and dance a "wild rumpus."

11. Make a prop box. You can collect fun things to put in it like hats, feathers, masks, toy musical instruments, stuffed animals, and plastic dishes. Ask children to make up stories using all of these things. You also can make prop boxes that have a certain theme. Here are some examples:

* supermarket box - toy cash register, play money, pads of paper, pencils, hole punchers, paper sacks, empty food boxes, play food, and plastic bottles;
* doctor kit - toy medical instruments, white lab coats, and bandages;
* cooking kit - pots, pans, spoons, pitchers, salt and pepper shakers, table cloth, and aprons.

12. After the children you care for become familiar with a few favorite books, you can make up games about them. Try these:

* Guessing games
Example: I rescued a big ocean liner. Who am I?
* Book title quiz
Example: I was rather lazy after all of my meals and soon there was not room for me in my house because I am ___.
Answer: The Man Who Didn't Wash His Dishes.
* Scrambled letters
Example: Jane, Michael, and I had tea on the ceiling one afternoon, unscramble the following letters to find out who I am.

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care -
. Lagoni, L. S., Martin, D. H., Maslin-Cole, C., Cook, A.,
MacIsaac, K., Parrill, G., Bigner, J., Coker, E., & Sheie, S. (1989).
Good times with stories and poems. In *Good times with child care* (pp.
222-238). Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University Cooperative

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