Book reviews - early learning

Young children are really keen to learn and as adults, we want to make the most of that enthusiasm. There are so many books available  for this age group that we have reviewed a selection of the best to help you make your choices. The most important thing is to be sure that children find learning fun - let them work at their own pace, and be guided by them as to what they can achieve.

Super Space (First Facts and Flaps)​ from Campbell Books

This early learning board book is ideal to encourage pre-schoolers to explore the wonders of space - stars, planets, the Moon and space travel. The colourful and informative illustrations by Lon Lee are accompanied by rhymes which introduce each topic. There's plenty to engage children's interest as they explore over thirty flaps, a turn-and-learn wheel showing a space station and a gigantic fold-out ending. All facts are age-appropriate, picture-led and checked by Jacqueline Mitton, an experienced astronomer and former editor of the Journal of the British Astronomical Society. Plenty of learning fun to be enjoyed.

Say Hi to Hedgehogs (A Nature Storybook) by Jane McGuinness

This is a well balanced combination of fact with story book which will encourage children to read and learn. We are all well aware of the fact that hedgehog numbers are in decline so it's great to introduce young children to these delightful creatures and encourage them to do what they - and their adults - can to help. As they follow the little hedgehog through the year, they learn what hedgehogs like to eat, how they hunt for their food, where they build their nests, how long it takes to grow from tiny hoglets into healthy adults and how they prepare for hibernation. Told in the form of a story, with plenty of accompanying facts, plus delightful pictures, this is a lovely read. Find out how we can make our environment hedgehog-friendly.

The Nature Girls by Aki

Introduce early learners to the wonderful variety of habitats around the world with this charming picture book. Join the adventurous Nature Girls (all 16 of them, who we know by name) as they travel around the world They swim in the sea, explore the desert, discover the harsh arctic tundra and more. There's so much to discover about the natural world, when you join this bright group of girls. They are appealing characters and you can see just how much pleasure they get from nature as you follow their exploits.

Progress with Oxford: Shape and Size Age 3-4

Perfectly designed for young learners exploring the concepts of shape and size as well as comparisons whilst having fun, this is an ideal first look. Ideally, at this age, parents will share in their child's learning, but the book does allow for children to work alone with minimal help and support, with pictures used to show how to do the activities. Let them work on their own but be there to guide as needed. An enjoyable learning experience is guaranteed by friendly Max and Min who accompany children through the book; there are stickers too. The pages are clearly laid out, easy to follow and a useful key at the front explains the various learning methods. Stimulating questions give the opportunity to extend learning. "You can find even more practical advice, free eBooks and fun activities to help your child progress on award-winning website,"

Look & See: Fun with Shapes! from Sterling Children's Books

The enticing front cover takes a peep through the die-cuts that are a feature of every page, and the bright colours are immediately appealing. The book shows how squares, circles, triangles and many more shapes form an integral part of the world around us. It encourages children to think about the shapes they see, and what can be made with each shape. It's a super way to introduce the concept of shapes in an easily understood way, and it encourages children to observe the world around them. As well, every shape features creative ideas to inspire children to draw their own shape-filled pictures. The rhyming text will help young ones remember the names of the shapes and it's great to see more complex shapes than usual included, such as pentagon and rhombus. Excellent. Published October 2018, ISBN 978-1454932185.

Architecture for Babies (Baby 101) by Jonathan Litton

Babies respond well to strong colours and shapes, so whilst a board book on architecture may seem unusual, it actually works really well. Babies absorb huge amounts of information (often more than we realise!) and they will love learning all about different types of buildings and how they are made. The book starts with the earliest buildings and shows the materials used to build. There are beautiful buildings and functional buildings - and the book is a wonderful opportunity to stimulate conversation as there's so much to talk about. The bold illustrations are full of colour and shape, and a simple text accompanies them. There's a surprise lift-the-flap ending too. Factual and fun, it's a refreshing change from many baby books, and one that will have on-going value and appeal.

Zoology for Babies (Baby 101) by Jonathan Litton

Perhaps your little one is more interested in animals than architecture - if so, this is the book for them. Baby 101 books look at big subjects in a way appropriate for babies; it's an unusual approach and makes the books stand apart from other board books - they are stimulating and engaging in an excellent way. This light-hearted introduction to zoology includes information about children’s favourite animals, including their habitats, foods and families. There are lots of animals to find on every page and the book is very good for stimulating discussion and generating interest.

1000 Useful Words: Build Vocabulary and Literacy Skills by DK Publishing

The attractive bright yellow cover with its myriad of small images is perfect to attract children... and the inside is equally enjoyable. There are many different ways to use this book, and all of them can be used to encourage reading, writing, story telling and talking skills. Each two page spread has its own theme, with plenty of variety including In the Countryside, Around the Farm, Toys and Playtime and many more children's favourites. On each page, parents will find questions to stimulate children's ineterst and to encourage them to discuss what they can see - this is very much a book for sharing. The clearly labeled pictures encourage picture-and-word association, building early reading skills, and every page features short sentences for children to finish that reinforce grammar and encourage early writing skills. The words include a combination of useful and imaginative nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Superb images bring the colourful scenes to life and provide lots of learning opportunities around differemt scenarios. A well thought-out book to give many hours of delight.

Learning Sight Words from Priddy Books

I am a big fan of wipe-clean books - they allow children the freedom to express themselves and have a go at things without worrying about permanent mistakes. Any errors can just be wiped away; and there always the opportunity to try again, or simply to reiterate work for extra learning support. This book introduces 50 sight words through wipe-clean exercises plus flash cards; the perforated flash cards can be easily separated and the shiny coating means they are durable - why not stick an envelope onto the book to keep them all together? There are also spare cards for your own words. The pen slots neatly into the binding. The activities include writing practice as well as brief explanations of the words and how they are used, along with sample sentences to complete. Bright and colourful, with clear layout, the book is a pleasure to use.

Starting School by Priddy Books

We're often made aware of the fact that many children are not sufficiently prepared for starting school. It's important for children's confidence that they get the best possible start to school, so this book with 26 pages of practical exercises is ideal. They include counting, colours, numnbers' letters and more, all carefully selected to be just right for pre-schoolers. There's also a noughts and crosses game - learning to take turns is an important early learning skill and one children definitely need for school. The spiral binding used in the Priddy workbooks means the books always lie flat; this helps children's pen control and saves a lot of frustration from pages flicking over. A well thought out book that will also stimulate further ideas.

Romeo Explores the Garden by Alain Gree

Is your child inquisitive about what happens in the garden? If so, they can share Romoe's exploits - and if not, hopefully, this book will interest them, as children love Romeo! The Let's Explore series has Romeo making discoveries in all sorts of places - this time he is in the garden. What can we grow? How can we attract insects? Which insects collect pollen? These are just some of the questions children ask, and along with Romeo, they can learn the answers by turning the pages. Of course, Alain Gree's trademark lively colourful illustrations are key to the book, and they offer lots of opportunities to talk more about what can be found in the garden - and how we can play a part. A lovely board book. Published by Button Books, September 2018, ISBN 9781787080140.

Follow Me Around the World from Priddy Books

Mazes are fascinatinmg to children but very young children need a bit of extra help tp do them - and that's just what this book provides. Children will enjoy tracing the grooved paths as they follow Fox on hos journey around the world, calling in at North America, Europe, South America, Africa, Asia and Australasia. The colourful shiny pages clearly indicate the start and end of each track and along the way there's plenty to spot - including some animals who are listed on every page. What else can your child see? Take the opportunity to discuss the pictures and the other animals... and where is Fox? The shiny board pages are perfect to capture the attention of young ones, and they can review their journey at the end of the book.

As We Grow: The Journey of Life... by Libby Walden

Cut-outs on the front cover depict the theme of the book, from baby to adult. Throughout the book, Richard Jones’ enchanting illustrations sensitively depict each stage of life, accompanied by rhyming text that perfectly summarises the journey of life for young children. The illustrations are full of detail and offer plenty of opportunity for discussion. As they find out about the journey of transformation that we undergo as we grow up, they will be suppprting the learning they do in school under the topic of 'growing up', and it's really good to see this addressed for the youngest readers.

Peek and Seek from DK, illustrated by Charlotte Milner

This big life-the-flap board book will instantly appeal to children - even the youngest will enjoy the bright pictures and simple text, which describes birds, monkeys, wolves, ants, fish and rabbits, with text encouraging exploration under the flap. The big card flaps open up to reveal a lovely scene showing each creature in its natural habitat. There is explanatory text, plus seven things to spot on each page. The book concludes with more factual information which includes lots of fascinating facts for children to remember. The illustrations are superbly detailed and give a real insight into the lives of the creatures. This is a book which works perfectly on many levels, from colourful picture book for young children, to informative nature book for older ones.

Stuff to Know When You Start School by DK Children

We hear a lot in the press and through social media about children being ill-prepared to start school. This book is an excellent way to address the situation, with its child-based approach. The book is addressed directly to the child; of course, he or she will need adult help but the approach is a really good way to engage the child's attention and I think it's a great way to handle this. The friendly approach acknowwledges that being a child is hard work - there is so much to learn. Double page spreads cover a whole range of essentials, including the family, manners, toilet time, eating, being safe and friendship. The coverage is excellent and there are plenty of illustrations to capture children's interest. Perfect to share and the ideal way to ensure your child starts school ell prepared and confident - and to reassure parents that their child will have a good start.A really well thought out book.

Write-On Wipe-Off Let's Trace (Highlights™ Write-On Wipe-Off Fun to Learn Activity Books)

Wipe-on Wipe-off books are a super way to encourage children to learn to write - they don't need to worry about making mistakes and there are endless oportunities to improve. Pattern making and tracing are important steps toward handwriting readiness, and children enjoy these activities. This ring-bound book lies flat for easy of use - vital at this stage of learning. Brightly coloured pictures with plenty of child-appeal move systematically from simple and short lines to more complex, age-appropriate mazes and other puzzles. With a range of activities, including dot-to-dots, patterns to draw and shapes to complete there's plenty to engage children and develop confidence as they practise key skills. A wipe off pen is included and the pages wipe easily and cleanly. A super early learning book with lots to enjoy.

My First Farm Picture Cards from DK

16 generously sized cards have pictures of common farmyard features on one side, including barn, duck, farmer, pig and piglet and scarecrow. On the reverse of each card, there are a series of questions for adult and child to doscuss together which encourage conversation and introduce other learning skills such as word sounds, naming baby animals, spotting, colours and animal sounds. In addition, early languages are introduced with the word in Spanish, French, German and Chinese. A card of notes for parents and carers has even more suggestions to gain the maximum benefit from the lovely colourful and durable cards. A stimulating set of cards with lots of early learning opportunities.

First Learning Colours Play Set from Priddy Books

This clever book/shape sorting toy combination will really enourage toddlers to explore colour and shape. Inside the chunky velcro-fastened box, you will discover a box full of brightly coloured and labelled shapes, including a duck, fish, drum, tracror, dinosaur and many more. On one side is a colourful photo; the reverse is a single bright colour with the name. The second element is a board book in which alternate pages feature cut-outs into which to slot the shapes. This will encourage children's curiosity and develop fine motor skills as they manipulate the shapes. There are plenty of pportunities to develop discussion and recognition too. A very nicely produced set.

Learn to Write ABC: Just Follow the Dots by Nancy Meyers

Learn to write should never be boring, and this lovely book really make writing fun for young ones. It starts off with lines and shapes to draw, and then moves on to tackle the alphabet. ABC encourages children to follow the dots to form letters, it's as simple as A, B, C. The dot-to-dot pictures will guide pre-schoolers into holding a pen correctly while familiarizing them with the letters of the alphabet. As well as simply drawing over the letters, there are lots of engaging activities. For example, give the sheep woolly coats and give the jellyfish shiny tentacles; all these activities realy develop pencil control skills. There are also short words to complete and say on each page. Young doodlers will enjoy transforming the quirky illustrations by following the dots and filling in the letters, making learning really fun

PAW Patrol: Ready, Steady, Count! by Scholastic

Popular characters Chase, Marshall, Rubble and the rest of the team are here to take your child on a PAWsome maths adventure. The colourful pages help with numbers from 1 to 20, with a page for each number, followed by pages which group the numbers together so children can see how they fit together. They are shown how to write each number, plus drawing and tracing activities.There are plenty of number puzzles to enjoy too, and the colourful and appealing activities really make early learning fun. Shapes and number lines are also introduced. A well thought-out book with lots to engage children, showing them that learning about numbers is really enjoyable. Two pages of bright stickers add to the fun.

PAW Patrol: Ready, Steady, Write! by Scholastic

Upper and lower case letters are included in the book, with dotted lines to draw over, showing the direction to write, followed by spaces for independent writing. There is also an engaging activity for each letter, to reinforce learning; these use a range of skills including drawing, writing and observation to help children remember how to write the letters. The colourful stickers add an extra ekement of fun as well as helping fine motor skills. With a total of 48 pages, these books are excellent value, with a good selection of activities.

Arty Words Flash Cards (Arty Mouse Write on Wipe Off Flash Cards) by Mandy Stanley

The box contains 40 double-sided wipe-off cards plus a pen and a cloth (a nice touch, this). The colourful cards depict familiar objects and common words that children will easily recognise, as well as colours and numbers. Arty Mouse and his lovable friends encourage young learners to write over the names and enjoy the early pen control activities such as drawing a handle on a cup, drawing leaves and completing the picture of a cat. Wipe-clean cards are perfect for early learners, as they can practise over and over again, getting their learning off to a great start. The colourful and appealing pictures are a great incentive. All Arty Mouse early learning titles help to develop hand-eye coordination and expand children's knowledge of key first concepts and their understanding of the wider world through art-based activities.

Let's Learn Animals, Colours, Counting, First Words, with Stickers (Let's Learn Sticker Books) by Steph Hinton

The early stages of learning need to be fun for children, and this colourful book, packed with a range of enjoyable activities, will really get learning off to a good and positive start. It's ideal for children aged 3+, and the stickers are well-sized for this age group. Key first concepts are covered, in four separate sections - colours, counting, first words and animals. Each page includes interesting text, so children can enjoy hearing adults read aloud - each section of the book features all the Reception high frequency words, so children will soon be starting to read this for themselves. There are hundreds of stickers included to complete the educational activities, this is a perfect activity book to give your child a headstart before starting school, or to support school learning in the home. The range of activities is excellent, with plenty of variety to keep children's attention. The collage-style illustrations are really attractive and are a real bonus in a book of this kind, making it full of appeal; the high quality shiny paper is another attractive feature of this really excellent book.

Pull-the-Tab Counting with Flash Cards from Top That

This colourful book cleverly links counting with learning the Reception high-frequency words. Pretty illustrations and lovely colours are found throughout the book; the first part consists of sums to do, with pull-down tabs to reveal the answers. Counting phrases are found at the top of each page, to introduce the words while learning to count and add up to 10. At the end of the book, a series of 40 double-sided flash cards is discovered, neatly slotted in, and all ready to give children even more counting practice, with objects to count up to 20 and word questions to answer alongside the pictures. It's a great way to encourage children to explore numbers for themselves, and Steph Hinton's gorgeous illustrations make for a really attractive book. It's durable, too, being board-based. An unusual approach and one which is highly effective

Adding and Taking Away (Skills for Starting School) from DK

There is so much parents can do to help their children make a happy, secure start at school. Giving them a grounding in basic number skills is one of them, and that's where this book will help. Of course, the most important thing at this age is making learning fun and this book which teaches the basic concepts of adding and subtracting up to 10 is certainly fun. The friendly characters, Bip, Bop and Boo, use familiar situations, such as building a tower and tidying up to help children understand simple maths; and parents can build on this at home in similar situations. There are a range of activities to enjoy, all with a narrative theme to engage children - and there are colourful stickers to help counting. A perfect start to learning to count, and one that children will really enjoy.

ABC Games (Skills for Starting School) from DK

Give your child a head start with with this pre-reading skills package which takes them through a progressive learning experience from recognising and identifying letters, to learning phonics, to understanding how letters form words. Play along with the friendly characters Bip, Bop and Boo with this box containing 26 letter cards plus 26 colourful picture cards.(one picture for each letter). The accompanying book has three activities for adult and child to enjoy together, helping them learn letter sounds. The accompanying sheet  gives tips on learning letter sounds using the cards, plus a variety of games at different levels of learning. These include alphabetical order, matching the letters and pictures, memory games, phonics game and ABC treasure hunt; the colourful cards offer plenty more opportunities to devise your own games too. By enjoying this pack with your child, they will be helped with the social skills necessary for starting school, inspiring confident, curious and capable children who are ready to forge ahead with their learning.

Read Write Inc.: My Reading and Writing Kit: Early sounds and blending by Ruth Miskin

This comprehensive kit has been specially developed with parents in mind, to help them introduce their child to phonics and support their first steps in learning to read and write. It's ideal to use before a child starts school, to give a solid foundation on which to build; early experience will also give children greater confidence for when they start school. The kit includes all that parents will need for this good grounding - Phonics flashcards introduce and give practice in learning alphabet sounds; Handwriting book develops letter formation and writing skills; Wipe-clean sheet and pen gives practice writing the sounds (wipe-clean is always a good option as it means children can have as much practice as they need); Bedroom frieze shows picture prompts to remember the sounds (it's amazing how much children will absorb simply from seeing the sounds); Parent handbook provides practical advice for giving your child a head start. The parent handbook is well written and explains exactly how parents can best help their child; phonics can be a tricky area, so do take heed of this importance guidance. "Read Write Inc., developed by Ruth Miskin, provides a structured and systematic approach to teaching literacy. It is used by more than a quarter of the UK's primary schools and is designed to create fluent readers, confident speakers and willing writers." This is an excellent pack, well presented and designed, perfect to give your child a head start.

My First Writing Book Dinosaurs from Bloomsbury

Wipe-clean books are the perfect format for early writing practice books - children can practise over and over again, giving them as much opportunity as they need to refine their writing skills. These are board books, meaning that children have a good firm surface for their writing - although, of course, children should always be encouraged to sit at a table when practising writing so they have the correct posture and pen grip. Each page has a colourful dinosaur picture with an accompanying word - these usefully include colours. A really attractive first writing book.

My First Writing Book Animals from Bloomsbury

This wipe-clean board book comes complete with pen - just trace over the word, starting at the dot and then following the dotted line so children learn the correct letter formation right from the start - this is so important. Each page has a simple animal picture with the word underneath - use the colourful pictures as opportunities for discussion.  Also available are Things That Go!, and Farm, so you can choose a title (or titles) that best reflects your child's interest - that way, you will keep their enthusiasm going.




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