How to Pick Best Children's Books (the Montessori Perspective)

How to Pick Best Books for Toddlers - the Montessori Way

If you ask my 2.5-year-old, Alice, books are "the new black." Seriously.

There was this period when we allowed her 10-15 minutes of screen time before wrapping up for the day (I know, I know. In my defense, it was PBS Kids). Once, when it was time to go to bed, Alice said she wanted to read a book. I said, “OK, you can choose whether you want to read a book or watch a cartoon. We only have time for one.” She picked reading! That time, and all other evenings when presented with this same choice. For a young brain, the more intellectually engaging activity appears to be more fun. Who knew!

Books for Toddlers - I don't need sleep, I need answers

Today I'll talk about what makes a great book for kids between the ages of 0 and 6 according to Montessori principles. If you are familiar with the concept of a Prepared Environment for kids, you may have noticed that every aspect of it is designed with purpose. It is only natural that some books will fit in such an environment better than others. Below you'll find key features to look for in a book for young children.

Reality-Based Content: Montessori education prefers books that depict the real world and its elements accurately. This includes books about nature, animals, people, and everyday life experiences. Young kids may have a hard time distinguishing between reality and fantasy until around the age of 6. At this age, they are naturally hungry to learn about the world around them.

Following this principle may sometimes be tricky because in many children's stories (really good ones!), humans can fly, insects can talk, and animals can wear glasses and read newspapers. For good examples of reality-based stories, check out "Harry The Dirty Dog" by Gene Zion, "The Snowy Day" by Ezra Keats, or even "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle.

By the way, I talk more about these and other titles in my article on best books for 1-year-olds.

High-Quality Illustrations: Books with clear and detailed illustrations are favored. These visuals should accurately represent the subject matter and complement the text, helping children understand and appreciate the beauty of the natural world. The pictures don't have to be photorealistic, but they should bear enough resemblance to reality for a child to recognize what or who is depicted.

There are books with some very creative and beautiful illustrations out there, with "Mirror" by Jeannie Baker being my current favorite.

Books with real-world photographs work just as well.

Early Science: It’s a good idea to encourage exploration and curiosity about the natural world. Books about science topics—such as botany, zoology, astronomy, and geography—are highly valued. These should present information in a clear, accessible manner suitable for the child's age and development level.

There is an excellent book series called "Read and Wonder" with over fifty titles about various living creatures, from microbes to whales, for early introduction to science.

Practical Life Skills: Books that illustrate practical life activities, such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, and dressing, are a huge hit with 2 and 3-year-olds. These books are also aligned with Montessori's emphasis on developing independence and practical skills.

Language Development: For younger children, books that nurture language development are essential. This includes books with simple, clear language, as well as poetry and stories that enrich the child's vocabulary and foster "phonemic awareness" - a term referring to the ability to recognize and manipulate individual sounds.

Ethical and Moral Stories: Stories that prompt discussions about ethics, morality, and social behavior can be compatible with Montessori education, provided they encourage children to reflect on their actions and the consequences for themselves and others.

A good example is "Aquarium" by Cynthia Alonso. While this picture book has no words, the message at the end is clear. 

Most importantly, fun! When reading together, choose the books you enjoy. If you dislike a particular story or find yourself bored by a book, your child will pick up on it as well. There's no benefit in forcing yourself to read something simply because it's popular or fits certain guidelines.

I'll take it a step further and say this: Let's say you're a big fan of Harry Potter. It's better to enthusiastically read this brilliant series to your child and share the joy of a fictional story like that, rather than reading "proper" books and hating it. Like many other things, children absorb the love of reading from those around them.

Books for Toddlers - the reading adventure

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Montessori book shelf

Encourage Your Child to Pick Their Favorite Books!

Kids are much more inclined to choose a book when they can easily spot its colorful and appealing covers.

A well designed book display is the ideal method to showcase your home library.

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