Reading at home with children is essential for promoting literacy, reinforcing new vocabulary, and strengthening critical thinking skills and imagination. But children’s books also provide important lessons in self-awareness and empathy, and can be used to introduce diversity into their daily lives even when stuck at home. Here are three ways story times that include diverse characters and experiences contribute to child development of empathy, empowerment, and education.
Some stories are mirrors that reflect children’s lives and experiences back to them in a creative way, while other stories act as windows, giving them a chance to learn about someone else’s life. Through these windows, children develop empathy, learn about others in their community, and create connections between their lives and the lives of people who might on the surface seem very different from them. In creating connections, they see others as individuals rather than as types.
Role models in literature are important. Reading a book that provides a mirror allows young people to feel empowered, like they can be anyone and do anything. Reading a book that provides a window allows them to look at their friends and think the same for them. Bottom line: children of all backgrounds benefit from seeing characters whose experiences are both similar to and ALSO different from their own.
Reading these books together allows parents and caregivers to begin a conversation about very real issues of privilege and prejudice, in a safe context, at a level that their child is able to comprehend and question. When these conversations are made approachable through books and stories, children begin to develop the tools they need to address these issues as they encounter them in real life situations.