Using Picture Books to Introduce Holidays

Both with my own children and in my clinical practice, I typically introduce a holiday using a picture book. Well, if I’m honest, as you’ll soon see, I introduce pretty much everything new in a picture book! In the curriculum chapter I wrote in Facilitating Early Social Communication: From Theory to Practice, I introduce a variety of social and language topics using picture books.

Choosing a picture book with good, clear, uncluttered pictures, and a nice sequence allows your child to visually SEE the new words or concepts you might be introducing. In “reading” the book, don’t feel pressure to actually READ the words that the author wrote. I know parents joke all the time about paraphrasing the author’s words at bedtime, but honestly, there’s nothing bad about that! It’s GOOD—particularly for kids with autism and impaired language abilities! I rewrite books ALL THE TIME.

Before you attempt rewriting a picture book, please check out my notes on how to choose the “right” picture book for you, and tips for reading and writing the book.

Now, let’s go back to the core vocabulary. In this case, you are using the book to introduce new words and concepts. These new core vocabulary words should be simple, speakable, and relatable. They need to make sense to your child. So, try to boil down the concept that page in the book is showing to just a few words—and then use the same core vocabulary over and over.

Since I happen to be from the Christian tradition, and Easter time is upon us, I’m going to use the example of Easter. In this case, you might use a picture book to introduce words and concepts your child may encounter when participating in Easter egg hunts. So, your core vocabulary might be: bunny, egg, hunt, basket.

Using pictures in the storybook of your choosing (Don’t forget to check out my blog on “How to Select the ‘Right’ Picture Book.”), you might need to break down the ideas that:

  • the bunny hides the eggs
  • kids look for eggs—this is called a HUNT
  • put eggs in the basket
  • when all the eggs are in baskets, the hunt is finished

Depending on your child, and what you know he/she might struggle with, you might also try to insert coping strategies or rules for an event. By laying the groundwork during a quiet activity, when the child is relaxed and happy, when the child is in a “good place,” you may be able to prevent problem behaviors before they start. For an egg hunt, you might need to address ideas like:

  • sometimes I might need to WAIT to eat the candy
  • don’t touch other people’s eggs
  • too much candy will make my tummy hurt
  • food allergies—Some candy is ok to eat. Some candy might make me sick.

Even if your child’s typical language ability exceeds what I’ve listed above, remember that they are learning something new. Learning something new is hard for all of us. Think about when you are trying to learn a vocabulary word in another language; it’s a LOT easier to figure out what a word means if it’s spoken in isolation, rather than in a sentence. When teaching something new, your language must be simple!

When you prepare your child for the “different day” or event to come, you are giving your child the vocabulary and concepts to develop a new set of expectations. When they understand and know what to expect, you have given them the best chance to not only succeed but ENJOY the holiday! Next time, we’ll talk more about setting expectations.

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