People often ask me to recommend books for children with ADD, ADHD, and various other attention disorders. I tell them that these children are really just like most children, only more readily distracted. It is thought that these children have less of an important chemical in the brain called Acetylcholine. This chemical is a bridge for thoughts as they travel through the brain and are processed. For these kids, the ability to focus has been "shorted out," so to speak.
The brain is amazing, however, in its ability to compensate. When these kids are highly motivated, they can overcome this disadvantage. Notice how the TV or video game takes them in and can hold their attention. If a child with an attention problem isn’t being entertained, then he’s not paying attention. If he’s not paying attention, then he’s not learning.
If books are to compete with their high-tech counterparts, they need to be presented in a format that is equally enticing. High motivation is the key factor with these remarkable kids. We want them to want to read, to find out, to know more! Fireworks go off for these kids when they open interactive books with a powerful visual impact. Interactive books are very entertaining and they are often packed full of educational material. Books should be written in a fun and interactive format that will pique the readers’ curiosity and get them involved.
What are qualities of highly motivating books?
Visual Impact: I recommend books with good use of color. Books with a high picture to text ratio appear less threatening to children. Pictures are useful for building interest and improving comprehension.
Text Format: Paragraphs should be individually titled. This helps the reader get an idea of what he can expect to read in that paragraph. When information is presented in small bite size pieces, it appears less demanding and easier to digest.
Content: For the text to be interesting, it must inform and explain with descriptive words and real examples. The most engaging books may include intrigue or suspense along with the informative material, or may include humor as a fun way to introduce information.
High picture/text ratio, with small bits of interesting text: As a book about space is opened, the child is immediately drawn into a beautiful picture. He sees a celestial expanse of planets, color and space, a floating astronaut or space station. His interest has been piqued. If we place bits of informative text right in the midst of this setting, we have created the formula for learning. This is relative, contextual learning, which feeds a child’s desire to "want to know." It entices the reader to want to find out more, which in turn, raises the motivation and attention level.
Fun & Interactive: Questions that stimulate the reader’s thought should appear throughout the text. Puzzles at varying degrees of difficulty to solve, depending on the child’s age and reading level encourage further interaction. Activities with illustrated step-by-step instructions promote comprehension.
Context: For young children, the ability to see the vocabulary words in the context or setting in which they are used is very important. For example, the words, "tree" and "flower," seen without a reference, look like all the other words that are new and foreign to a beginning reader. To see the words together with their corresponding pictures and then in the garden setting gives an introduction that makes sense and is better remembered. As the reader progresses, it is helpful to continue this approach, giving a context of pictures and text that relate to the immediate subject.
A few publishing companies which have this format are Usborne, Dorling Kindersly and Kingfisher. Books by these publishers are written with a child’s previous experiences in mind, encouraging the child to look further. This connection between prior experiences and new information has also been found to increase attention.
Much research has gone into these kinds of books to increase interest, and therefore, the attention. The added result is increased reading comprehension and story retention. The lavish illustrations are appealing and draw kids in. The individually titled paragraphs and bite-sized bits of text enable an information exchange. They don’t have to read the whole page to "get the idea" of what is being discussed. They can read one or two sections and move on to another page or another book.
We want to ensure that each and every child will walk away with a sense of accomplishment, as well as retaining much of the information presented in the books he or she encounters. We are committed to providing the kinds of books that children want to read. When children love reading, they become lifelong self-learners.
About Susie Babcock
Susie Babcock is a nurse and Independent Educational Consultant for Usborne Books.
"My husband’s work brought us to live in Bolivia and Paraguay for several years, where good books were hard to come by. We carried dozens of Usborne books with us to supplement our children’s education. The quality and variety that these books provide have been a real value to my family over the years. More important, the fun and educational format has given my children a love for reading. I am especially pleased that our youngest son, who was diagnosed with ADHD, is reading on college level at age 12. He devours every new book!"