A Montessori Teachers Approach to Picture Books in the Elementary Classroom by Donna Paul

Please welcome picture book author, teacher, and eternal optimist Donna Paul to Frog on a Blog. Donna’s book Carl The Cantankerous Cat was published earlier this year. It features an engaging story, 70 vocabulary words, a glossary, and post-reading follow-up activities. Donna is a Montessori elementary teacher with over ten years of classroom experience. She’s stopped by today to share 5 principles that she keeps in mind when choosing picture books for her classroom. Let’s hear from Donna!

A Montessori Teachers Approach to Picture Books in the Elementary Classroom

by Donna Paul

Picture books are my jam! I love everything about them. So much so that I self-published my own, Carl the Cantankerous Cat. Crazy, I know! As an elementary Montessori teacher, I find it helpful to supplement lessons with picture books whenever possible. Why? Picture books are inviting, uplifting, thought-provoking, and heartwarming. Images and illustrations are powerful! The right picture book can not only imprint positive life morals but also spark the curious imagination within a reader. You know what I’m talking about. For me, it was anything with spectacularly illustrated pets. Those books spoke to me. And later I would speak them to my stepdaughter, Taylor, and share their magic with her. Now she’s going on twenty years of age (where did the time go?), and we still enjoy reminiscing about her childhood, what she grew up doing, saying, and reading. I tell you this – memories are made with picture books.

Did you know that a carefully selected read aloud can be a powerful teaching tool for learners of all ages? Picture books can captivate a class of fidgety first graders, bring jaw-dropping wonder to the early elementary years, and spark intellectual discussions with upper grades. Combining pictures and illustrations can benefit a student’s literacy skills, promote reading, improve observation skills, and encourage creativity. They encourage all types of learners to engage and explore. Amazing!

Photo credit: Sven Brandsma on Unsplash

But not all picture books are created equally. When considering picture books for my Upper Elementary classroom, I always keep Dr. Montessori’s ideas about young children and their development in mind. Remember these important principles on your next library trip!

1 – Keep It Real – Choose books that are based in reality. Children are naturally interested in the world around them. They should be exposed to books that cover real-life scenarios. Try to find books with stories of real experiences, such as daily life activities, and that show pictures of real objects, such as vehicles, rather than fantasy.

2 – Choose Beauty – Select books with alluring illustrations. Model to children how delicately you hold a picture book as if it is a piece of art. Children love beautiful things. Aesthetically pleasing books are known to grasp a reader’s attention and admiration. 

3 – Rich Language – Children want to learn new words. They want to understand unfamiliar vocabulary terms. They want to know how to pronounce long words. Words intrigue children. So, look for picture books that offer descriptive words, accurate language, and a vast vocabulary. While the illustrations take the reader on a journey, including extra description in sentences allows readers to experience the story much better.

4 – Educate Yourselves – Look for books that provide a deep, thought-provoking lesson. Expose children to the world around them via the comfort of a picture book. The reader should walk away knowing something new. 

5 – Readability – Read a few pages. How does it sound? Does the language flow smoothly or is it awkward and flat? Text that flows rhythmically and naturally is most appealing. Soothing sounds that vary in pitch and tone are effective in holding a listener’s attention. Find books that allow the reader to explore a range of emotions through the text. 

Picture books are excellent supplementary teaching tools. I love using them in my classroom. Illustrations help children understand what they are reading. Pictures guide readers to analyze the story. If children are having difficulty with the words, illustrations can help them figure out the narrative, which leads to an increase in their comprehension. Equipped with picture books that follow the guidelines above, readers are sure to flourish in and out of the classroom. 

Happy reading!

Donna Paul

A Montessori elementary teacher by trade with over ten years of experience in the classroom, Donna Paul is a self-published author and co-creator of engaging and educational activities for young learners, as well as an online ESL teacher. If she’s not working, she’s probably working out. Donna strives to live a healthy and adventure-filled life. Family, learning, writing, health and wellness, compassion, plant-based food, tiny living, loving animals, and travel are topics that make her soul smile.

An eternal optimist and fueled by the power of patience (and plants!), Donna is a believer in the good of all beings. Driven to make herself a better person and always striving to lead by example. You can find her picture book, Carl the Cantankerous Cat, on Amazon.

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