You’ve met your little one’s very first need - you love them. Now, you can help them learn how to show love using early literacy practices. Did you know that reading books is a wonderfully effective way to help your little one grow into a kind, compassionate and understanding human? Research has shown that early literacy practices play a significant role in supporting babies and toddlers in developing empathy and compassion, and Black History Month serves as a reminder to explore and honor the experiences of black people. Just as it is never too early to start reading, it is never too early to start having the little talks that support the generation of big, kind and compassionate hearts!
Here are four simple - yet powerful - ways that parents and caregivers can use books to help babies and toddlers develop empathy and compassion while learning about diversity and inclusion.:
Select books with diversity of character, lived experience and even language.
Look for books that highlight characters from different cultures, communities and lived experiences. Examine the cover art of a book and consider the title; are the faces, clothing, environment or names already familiar to you and your little one? If not, it might be a great choice to discover!
Why do this?
This will introduce your baby or toddler to different cultures, backgrounds and experiences, and broaden their understanding of the world around them.
Make reading a fun and interactive experience.
With our littlest learners this looks like you asking questions, pointing out interesting or familiar objects in the illustrations, and making connections between the story and your child’s own experiences. As they grow, encourage them to question, point, and relate the story to their lives.
Why do this?
This practice does double duty, helping your child to not only develop theory of mind - the ability to understand the thoughts, emotions and perspectives of another human being - but also to grow a love for reading.
Use books to start conversations about empathy and compassion.
Talk about how you would feel if you were in a situation similar to the characters in the book, or what you think the characters might be feeling. Point to the facial expressions of the characters on the page and explain what emotion they are showing (for example, furrowed brows for anger or frowns and tears for sadness). Consider if the illustrator is also using colour to showcase a given emotion (for example, lots of blue for feeling sad, or lots of red for anger).
Why do this?
This will help your little one begin to recognize, understand and relate to the emotions of others. It will also support their social and emotional development further as they learn to identify and navigate their own big emotions.
Talk about the beauty of diversity and inclusion.
Explain to your child why it's important to appreciate and respect people who are different from us, and how everyone has unique qualities and abilities that contribute to the world. This doesn’t need to be a lecture; for our babies and toddlers this can be as simple as noticing a difference and remarking. “Wow! That hair is so beautiful and curly! My hair is beautiful and straight. Humans all have beautiful hair!”
Why do this?
Our little ones are in the process of becoming the selves that they will be as adults every moment. When you instill these values during a child’s foundational years, you help them grow into a kind, accepting and understanding person, that will more easily see difference not as divisive, but as an avenue for listening, learning, sharing and growing.
Discover our handpicked selection of must-read books that celebrate and honor exceptional Black authors, illustrators and stories.
During Black History Month bookstores and libraries will showcase books that illustrate the black experience, but keep in mind that these books - and those that feature other cultures - are to be explored year round. Here are some great books to consider not only for Black History Month, but for every month of the year. These books are not only educational, but they also help to promote self-love, acceptance, and a deeper understanding of the beauty of diversity and inclusion.:
“B is for Baby” written and illustrated by Atinuke:
This engaging book not only introduces the letter b but takes the reader on an adventure marked with many surprises and smiles while introducing little ones to new vocabulary that may be both familiar and exotic. Find it on: Amazon | Indigo
“Lovely” written and illustrated by Jess Hong:
This book helps little ones begin to explore the deep and complex ways that we are different, while sharing one critical message - difference is lovely! Bold illustrations and clear and minimal text make this book ideal for supporting letter recognition and exploring opposites in a unique way that goes far beyond black and white. Find it on: Amazon | Indigo
“Black is a Rainbow Colour” written by Angela Joy and illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Black isn’t a colour in the rainbow and it often has negative associations tied to its use. This rhythmic, rhyming book explores the meaning of what black can be and what it can mean to be a black person. Bright illustrations provide opportunities to identify colours, shapes and objects. Find it on: Amazon | Indigo
“The Colours of Us” written and illustrated by Karen Katz
This book was created by a mother to help her daughter understand not only herself, but the people around her. There are so many interesting words that we can use to describe the skin we are in, and this book does this in a delicious and beautiful way. Find it on: Amazon | Indigo
“I Am Love: A Book of Compassion” written by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
This book connects the dots between complex ideas to show little ones (and their parents and caregivers) how to love. Explore love for self, and lessons on how to be kind, compassionate and understanding towards others through charming illustrations and clear, intentional, and empowering words. Find it on: Amazon| Indigo
“The Undefeated” by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
This is a poem, turned book, that is truly meant to be explored and then reexplored at each stage of a person’s growth; serving as a platform for endless questions, comments and conversation. The text is large and bold to support letter recognition. The realistic illustrations showcase the diversity and depth of the Black American people and their history, and provide opportunities to relate images to real life. Point your way through the pictures in this book. What does your little one notice? What do you notice? Find it on: Amazon| Indigo
"I Am Enough" written by Grace Byers and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo
This powerful book serves to remind us that we are enough - just as we are. There is visual and verbal harmony which creating opportunities for little ones to make the essential connections between the words and pictures on the page. Little ones are encouraged to believe in themselves and their own worth, regardless of their skin color, hair texture, or body shape. Find it on: Amazon | Indigo
By reading books that showcase black authors, characters, and stories, parents and caregivers can help their children develop empathy, compassion, and a deeper understanding of the beauty of diversity and inclusion. Check these books out from your local library, or order your favourites online to add to your home library to start building a love and humankind (and reading!) together.
Hey, one more thing! If you have the time, read on to learn more about how early literacy connects to empathy and compassion. If you don’t have time, bookmark this page and come back when you have a minute!
What are empathy and compassion how do early literacy practices help support its development?
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. It is both an attribute (something you’re born with) and a skill (something you learn). This means that your little one might naturally be inclined to understand and show concern for others, but they may also need varying degrees of your intentional guidance and support to learn how and why to recognize the experiences of other human beings.
Compassion, by comparison, is the desire to help others who are suffering or in need. When you read with your child and talk about the characters in the stories, you can encourage them to think about how they might help others in similar situations. This helps them understand the importance of compassion and reinforces the idea that everyone can make a positive impact in the world.
When a child is able to put themselves in someone else's shoes, they are better equipped to make meaningful connections with others, and navigate social situations with demonstrated kindness and compassion. Reading with babies and toddlers, creating opportunities for them to experience a range of emotions through the stories and characters that they encounter. With your guidance, this routine will help them develop the ability to understand and relate to the emotions of others, and foster the empathy and compassion that are required to make our world a more safe and supportive place for all humans.
Research has shown that the benefits of early literacy practices are extensive. When you intentionally incorporate daily reading, alongside other early literacy practices with little ones, you're not only cultivating love, empathy, compassion and an appreciation for diversity and inclusion, but you're simultaneously helping with their language development and cognitive skills. So, if you haven’t already today (and even if you have!), here is a reminder to snuggle up with your little one, and share a warm and transformative experience, guided by love!
If you are a parent looking to add more reading, talking, singing, playing, and writing into your little one's daily life, or for ideas on what makes a literacy rich environment, check out our Instagram or TikTok pages.