There may not be words printed beneath each photograph, but chances are, you know a story you can pass along to your child: the trip to Chicago in that old Plymouth Dart, the Christmas you had an emergency appendectomy, fishing in Nana’s lake.
Research has shown that it’s not just reading a book that stimulates your child—it’s the conversations you have while looking at the page. Your child’s vocabulary expands every time you point to and name an object or a person in the picture. And using a family photograph during story time can inspire you to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end—which helps your child understand how language works. Chances are, you will also tell a family tale with more emotion in your voice and in your facial expressions, and that makes story time more interesting for your child. In addition, those photos could prompt your child to share memories of his own. Verbal practice is important, even if he’s just repeating the words, “Grandpa’s truck” over and over.
Using photographs as a basis for storytelling has plenty of benefits for your son or daughter’s reading skills, but it can also help you accomplish something else. In his book Writing About Your Life, author William Zinsser says that recounting your life stories has “the further value of telling your children and grandchildren who they are and what heritage they come from.” In a culture that values immediacy, we don’t always take care to preserve and pass on the gift of the past. You don’t have to write a 500-page memoir to instill a sense of family history in your child. You can do it one memory, one photograph at a time.
But what if you don’t have a huge family with old Plymouths and docks to fish from? What if it’s just you and your baby? Then reach for the photographs you took last month, and talk about those. It is just as valuable to say to your child, “Remember when we bought those sparkly shoes?” as it is to say, “Remember when Uncle Rob fell through the attic ceiling?”
Every detail you discuss will be building your child’s vocabulary, her understanding of story, and her concept of herself. You don’t have to be sitting around a Norman Rockwell holiday table, or rocking on a generations-old porch. You will always have the story that matters most to your child, the one that begins, “On the day you were born…”
Tell your child your family story today!