7 Beyond-the-Book Ways to Hook Preschoolers on Reading

by Iva-Marie Palmer

Photo credit: Westend61/Getty Images

Call it Internet Insecurity or Pinterest Paranoia, but if you’re a mom like me who’s craft-inept (I don’t know which end of a glue gun is up, or is it out?), all it takes is a little browsing of mom blogs to start feeling like you’re somehow messing up your child because you can’t come within fifty feet of an art project without ruining it.

But slowly you learn that the fun is in the doing — at least for your kid.

Some of the best inspiration for craft projects can be found right in the pages of your kids’ favorite books. Games and activities are a great way to extend the joy of reading into other aspects of your child’s life. And studies show book-related play can further your child’s reading comprehension skills and help them connect to books on a more personal level.

But don’t worry; you needn’t be a mini-Martha to make these activities meaningful.

Ellen Riordan, president of the Association for Library Service to Children (a division of the American Library Association), says that striving for perfection isn’t as important as the engagement with your child around books.

“The key in literacy extension is the level of conversation you create with your child. The best activities aren’t necessarily prescribed, but act as a springboard for finding and creating meaning around a book in a child’s life,” she explains.

Here are a few easy ways to get started. (No glue gun required.)

  • Food Fun

    The simplest, most foolproof way to bring a book to life is through food. If the results are unsightly, you can usually still eat them.

    Make a Meal from the Book — If your child loves The Very Hungry Caterpillar, you can create a buffet with the foods the caterpillar eats throughout the book. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs offers a million dining inspirations, including these yummy meatballs that are easy to fashion with little hands.

    Character Food Art — If you’re more talented, or at least ambitious, you can go all-out by making or baking food that actually looks like your child’s favorite characters. Themed bento boxes for school lunches are an amazing surprise, and character cupcakes for birthday parties or as a special treat are lots of fun. Check out Curious George as a sandwich or Mo Willems’s Pigeon as a cupcake.

  • Crafty Creations

    Here are some super simple craft projects that Clark and I have had fun with at home.

    Clay CharactersSculpey clay is pretty extraordinary. You shape it, you bake it, and your creation lives on forever. Clark loves the Bleeper characters from the Kipper books, and, using Sculpey, we fashioned one of these big-nosed fellows one day after school. The end result was not the piece d’art I was hoping for, but Clark loves it and proudly displays it in his room.

    Collages and Decoupage — Offer up a bunch of old magazines and have your child find items that remind them of their favorite book, or items a particular character might like. You can make a basic collage or let your child decorate a special object with the things they cut out. Use Mod Podge to keep everything in place. (Note: Scissors should be a grown-up task.)

    Dioramas — Chances are, these shoebox landscapes will be a school assignment for your child in later years, but right now they’re a novel and fun project. Gather little figures to use in making a three-dimensional scene from a favorite book. You can also draw or use clay to make the diorama elements.

  • Wordplay

    If your child is a reader, chances are there’s a bit of a writer inside too. These activities tap into a love of words and storytelling.

    DIY Sequels  If you’re a word person like me, this is where you’ll thrive. Preschoolers, with their silly senses of humor and crazy imaginations, are the perfect candidates for crafting new stories about their favorite characters.

    Don’t know where to start? Write a few random settings, props, and scenarios on slips of paper and have your child choose one of each at random. Then, start the story there: “Curious George at the toy store with a frying pan on the Man with the Yellow Hat’s birthday.” Let the giggles begin!

    Be the Author — If your child is more generally in love with reading and books, you can encourage the creation of their totally original works. Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk is great inspiration for this. In it, a mouse named Sam makes every child at his library an author when he staples together blank pages on which kids can spin their own stories. Another great activity to try at home!