Today’s book recommendation is a little different because I’m not necessarily recommending a single book… I’m recommending a whole genre. Non-fiction.
I think our kids just don’t read enough non-fiction. Picture your average day reading with your kids. Or your child's average day reading on their own. What percentage of the books your child reads are informational? And what percentage are fiction? The Common Core standards recommend that students, beginning in Kindergarten, read a lot of non-fiction. By fourth grade, an equal amount of fiction and non-fiction.
But outside of this scientific research, here are 5 reasons why I absolutely love non-fiction (and reading some form of it with my children every day)…
1. Kids LOVE it. Do you have a reluctant reader? Sometimes children are just not motivated to read pretend stories. Often, they can be engaged and motivated by reading about a real life subject that they are curious about. This can be particularly true of boys, however I’ve had a lot of girl students whose reading skills skyrocketed after they were introduced to non-fiction text that they self-selected. Older children may find a chapter book overwhelming and become a reluctant reader, but a non-fiction book that looks less intimidating, has pictures, and that they can read in any order they choose (see #3 below)? That may be more approachable, boost their confidence, and allow them to feel more successful.
2. Parents LOVE it too. If you haven’t read a lot of real-life stories with your kids, try it! They’re really fun to read because they’re fun to have conversations about. I learn so much about my son’s thoughts, questions, and thinking when we read non-fiction. I think that reading non-fiction tends to be more conversational because you are jumping around the page reading captions, diagrams, quotes, titles, headings and informational graphics. The things that you learn and wonder about will pop up throughout the day. Parents of older children can jump into their child's reading at any point, snuggle up, and discuss without missing important pieces of the plot like you would in fiction.
3. You don’t need to start at the first page and end at the last page. Sounds simple, but it’s really liberating once your child realizes they decide how they want to read their book. If they are only interested in learning about the lifeboats that were on the Titanic? Search for “lifeboats” in their book’s index and skip to that page! After reading about the Titanic lifeboats in one book, jump to another book (another source would be the fancy way to refer to it with your child) and see if that book gives you any new information about the lifeboats. You can start this as soon as your child has the language or nonverbal communication to show you what they want to read. You are teaching your child to conduct research, to be curious, and are teaching them life-long reading strategies.
Practical Tip: For the time-pressed parent (all of us!) this can be such an advantage. During nights where I need to rush bedtime routine, when I just can’t read an entire book start to finish, I’ll often ask my son to pick the two sections of a non-fiction book he’s most interested in and I read those. I’m more relaxed while reading, we have a more authentic reading experienced because I’m not rushing through, and my son knows that we can come back to the other parts later.
4. Non-fiction takes different forms. Sometimes a great way to engage our children in reading is to show them all of the forms that reading can take. Reading does not always mean that we are opening a book and reading it start to finish. We can read magazines. We can go on the computer and research a topic that we are interested in. We can read maps, brochures, menus, cereal boxes, signs and pamphlets. Reading is everywhere. Especially nonfiction. This can be particularly engaging for a really kinesthetic (active), distractible, or visual child. Sometimes the simple fact that reading feels different when they are holding something that is not a “book” is enough to pique their interest and renew their motivation.
5. The whole family can become engaged in a topic. I love when a child’s interest (the Titanic, an animal, a place) is honored by their parent, read and learned about, and becomes interesting to the whole family. Your family may have an entire family reading night, all reading the same topic, each person with a book at their level. Your non-fiction reading might spark a family hike to look for a certain animal, trip to the zoo, a local factory, historical sight, or a museum. You may have a family movie night watching a fictional movie about the non-fiction topic you’ve been reading about. These are the experiences that make learning fun for children, that they’ll remember forever, and that grow them to be the enthusiastically engaged readers that we want them to be.
Ready to start reading some non-fiction with your kids? I’ve listed a few of our family’s favorites in the sidebar, but make sure to choose books with your child that are based on their interests, because your child will be most engaged if the topic is their choice. Don’t stop at one book! Get a whole stack at your library and your child may not be the only one that learns something new during story time today.
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