K.J., 8, and his sister Kalina, 3, love reading books, particularly books they’ve written themselves or with their mother. In fact, K.J. is an avid reader of both homemade and traditionally published books, and his sister is following in his footsteps.
"When they were younger, I took pictures and copied them on a home printer," said their mother, Holly Karapetkova, an associate professor of literature at Marymount University in Arlington. "Once they were older, they illustrated the books or chose the item they wanted to include like for a specific letter in an alphabet book."
Karapetkova and other researchers said that creating books like this with children is not only easy and inexpensive, it’s one of the best ways to help them develop a love of books and reading, which Karapetkova said is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child.
"Reading is one of the fundamental ways that we interact with the world and particularly with knowledge," she said. "As a college professor, I find that my students who can read well can also think well and write well. They are thinkers on a much deeper level. Research has shown that reading makes you more contemplative, builds patience, concentration, and you have to use your imagination."
MAKING YOUR OWN BOOKS stretches the imagination. M. Susan Burns, Ph.D., a member of the early childhood education and human development and family sciences faculty at George Mason University says there are a few things that parents should keep in mind when making books with their children, however.
"Parents need to make it a positive experience," she said. "Children need to have books available [on topics] that are of true interest to them. When a book is being made with parents, it may not be engaging if the book is only of interest to the parent.
"Sometimes it gets sickening to have your kid tell you another princess story or another train story, but it is really important though to go with the child’s interest," she continued. "You can take a little bit of a twist on the story by maybe adding a map that shows the places where the train might go."
Children may also want to turn to real-life for their books. "Children love to create stories based on their own experiences, and begin to develop a love of art and literature at an early age," said Sharon Fishel, ArtReach director for the McLean Project for the Arts in McLean. "Parents can foster the link between drawing, writing and reading by having their child draw pictures of their daily routine or special events, such as field trips, family outings or unplanned adventures."
When creating a homemade book, the text doesn’t have to be original either. "You can take a familiar song and adapt the lyrics," said Karapetkova. "For example, a book about a daily routine can say ‘This is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth, brush our teeth early in the morning.’"
The techniques for young children are a little different. "You want a little one to engage with a book," said Fishel. "A parent-child idea is nice. We do a lot of parent-child workshops here [at the McLean Project for the Arts] where one parent does one side [of the page] and child does the other."
The books children and their parents create don’t have to be fancy, however. "When I’ve made books like this with my children, we’ve taken photos, we cut out pictures from magazines, glue sticks, something to put the picture onto," said Burns. "You can make those books fun by using artifacts. If you’re doing a book from your beach trip, your child may want to put some sand in the book, but it is important to have a child initiate it."
"I like the thicker paper stock and sometimes it makes it easier to hold onto," she added. "The other thing is to get the clear laminating paper and putting a plastic sheet over it."
Even "folded paper, bound with a pencil becomes a writer’s journal," said Karapetkova. "You can also take plastic zip-lock bags, punch holes in the bags, fill them and they become bath time books because they are waterproof."
Fishel suggests sticking with the basics: "Composition book, crayons, colored pencils. Go to a crafts store [and get] bags of origami papers or printed pattern papers," she said, noting that "each part of it can be come a lesson plan. Get a patterned piece of paper and explore with your child what makes that a pattern. Don’t assume that your child knows."
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STUDENTS at St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Potomac create their own books as part of the elementary school curriculum. Jordan Love, head of the Lower School, said that parents can "create a writing center at home by providing a child with an area dedicated to their work and ideas. All children need is blank paper, coloring crayons or markers, and a quiet place to work, preferably at a table that is their size. Elementary-age children should be provided paper that has a blank section at the top and lines on the bottom.
"For preschool age children," Love said, "parents can ask their child to dictate or describe in order the illustrations. Parents should describe what they are writing while the child watches them transcribe their ideas to the paper. This reinforces that language can be printed."
Experts add that it’s important to emphasize that mistakes, corrections and changes are OK. "I usually say don’t let them erase what they write or draw 150 times. It is not about perfection," said Fishel.
Burns agrees. "In books for pleasure you don’t want to make big corrections," she said. "It’s the relationship with parents that will make it positive."
Love suggests that parents display their children’s books. "Writing and reading go hand in hand, and through supporting the writing process, parents are enhancing their child’s ability to be a more effective and efficient reader. Writing together helps to expand a child’s vocabulary, encourage creativity, activate prior knowledge, and build self-esteem."