How to Use Books to Foster Heart-Mind Well-being

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Books, and the stories within them, offer safe and engaging teachable moments for children to explore emotions, understand common life challenges and apply social and emotional skills.

Bibliotherapy is the technical term for using books to help children, youth and adults work through tough issues that they face in their everyday social worlds. Many books are written explicitly about feelings or problems. But many more are more subtle in their approach - offering characters and events that children and youth can relate to which broaden perspectives and offer opportunities to develop empathy and practice critical thinking.

Research[1] shows that by identifying with characters and events in books, young people may feel less isolated, can be relieved of emotional pressure and gain insight into their own behaviours and self-concept. Stories also provide a problem-solving playground where students recognize that there is more than one way to approach problems. Using a book as a safe scenario, children are able to discuss problems more freely and can actually practice generating solutions or planning a course of action.  

To be clear, a book on its own does not offer the same depth of learning compared to when adults provide guidance and help children to think, understand and engage with the story and with each other in prosocial ways. One framework[2] for adults to structure bibliotherapy suggests four steps;

1. Pre-reading

  • Choose well written, age-appropriate books whose stories use familiar language.

  • Activate the child's background knowledge. This can be done by holding up the book and asking for predictions about the story or offering a general statement about the book and asking if they have ever experienced the topic?

2. Reading

  • Read aloud.

3. Post Reading Discussion

  • Have children re-tell the plot,  describe and evaluate the characters’ feelings and/or comment on events that occurred.

  • Ask probing questions[3] to help children think about their own feelings and better identify with the characters and events in the story

4. Use Reinforcing Activities

  • Apply problem solving strategies[4] to expand on the book’s resolution of a situation.

  • Practice and apply social and emotional learning using activities such as journals, role plays, debates, art activities or interaction with parents.

  • Consider reading the same book for several days (with younger children) as an additional strategy to support children’s social emotional development. Children learn the story, they can re-tell the story, and it becomes their story! They feel successful, confident and competent!  

 

The research is mixed whether bibliotherapy is an accepted "therapy" but it remains a popular technique for educators to teach about the external and internal lives of children. 

The process of identifying with a book's character and/or situation builds empathy skills.

 

The framework for a bibliotherapy lesson plan considers that most educators (or caregivers) are exploring common problems such as anger, teasing, bullying and issues of self-concept. The four steps offered by Dr. James Forgan in his 2002 article encourages children to identify with the main character of the story and develop insight to solve their problems.

Consider open ended questions such as:

  • Why do you think....(eg. this character feels sad)?
  • Show me your favourite page and tell me about it.
  • What's happening here? (point) How can you tell?
  • I wonder how....
  • What if.....?
  • What do you think will happen next? Why? (part way through)

There are a number of problem solving approaches available to help structure and support how children work through problems. 

6-Block Problem Solving Plan - is based on a traditional problem solving method known as the Dewey Sequence which is a reflective thinking process organized as a series of steps but adds on the important steps of action and evaluation.

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What could I do?
  3. List what might happen.
  4. Pick the best solution.
  5. Do it!
  6. Did it work?

 

 

  • Secure and Calm

    Secure and calm describes the ability to take part in daily activities and approach new situations without being overwhelmed with worries, sadness or anxiety. To be secure and calm also means being able to cope with stress and pressure, and to bounce back from difficulties.
  • Gets Along with Others

    Getting along with others is the ability to form positive and healthy relationships with peers and adults. Children with better abilities to regulate their emotions and behaviours have more friends and experience more positive playtime with their peers.
  • Alert and Engaged

    Being alert and engaged is the ability to manage and direct one's own feelings, thoughts and emotions. In general, the ability to be 'present' and to exercise self-control.
  • Compassionate and Kind

    Being compassionate and kind is closely related to empathy. While empathy refers more generally to the ability to take the perspective of and to feel the emotions of another person, compassion goes one step further.
  • Solves Problems Peacefully

    Managing conflict effectively is about creating an atmosphere where violence and aggression are not likely. To resolve conflict means using empathy, problem-solving skills, understanding other points of view and coming up with ways to make things right in a fair way.