Some of us are immediately turned off by this word, nonfiction. We think automatically, I don’t like nonfiction. But why? What do you associate nonfiction with? Often, people (children included) associate nonfiction with school. Or work. Or boring topics we were assigned to research at some point in our lives. Those associations are legitimate reasons to THINK we dislike nonfiction.
Now, can we push negative associations aside, and think about nonfiction in a different light? (Those who have good associations with nonfiction, and already enjoy it, congratulations—you get a gold star!)
First, think about any scenarios in which you ENJOY nonfiction. Do you enjoy reading magazines? Most magazine articles are heavy on the nonfiction—think about the topics: celebrities, cooking, parenting, human interest, places to travel, gardening, home improvement, sports. See how this list can go on forever? As many interests as people have, there’s a magazine for that. Wait a second, some are thinking, magazines are cheating, aren’t they? A magazine is not a book. (We could throw newspapers/online news sites in here too.) The articles are short and sweet, not requiring too much brain power or commitment. We enjoy magazines, so it shouldn’t count as reading, right? Are you getting how ridiculous it sounds to actually verbalize these thoughts? OF COURSE magazines count as reading. OF COURSE we enjoy having things to read that are easy to attend to, short and tailored to our interests. Magazines are fantastic because they are authentic, real-world, adult reading. So letting your kids see you reading a magazine is great, because even if you don’t consider yourself a “big reader,” they are seeing an adult role model doing authentic, real-world reading. Do you understand the impact this has on a kid? It’s subconcious reinforcement that reading is something adults do, for the rest of their lives, and for pleasure!
Why not get your child his own kid-oriented magazine? As a gift for the past several years, my mother-in-law has been renewing my children’s subscriptions to Highlights and High Five magazines. The gift that gives all year long! There are also National Geographic for Kids, Sports Illustrated for Kids, American Girl, Ranger Rick…google “magazines for kids” and you’ll see lots of options. Or go to your library and see what children’s magazines they take. You probably can’t check them out, but you and your kids can look through them to see what appeals most to them. Another of my favorites is the Lego Club magazine, which is free; you just have to sign up! Every classroom should be getting Lego or Lego Jr. magazine! Here’s a link to sign up for Lego Club. I mention magazines and the like because many adults can relate to interest in reading them, and they’re nonthreatening for most. But the variety of types and levels of nonfiction books available in most libraries is fantastic. Nonfiction is wonderful for everyone, but I want to point out some benefits for reluctant readers.
- A nonfiction book/text does not necessarily have to be read in sequential order. Many lend themselves to browsing and for the reader to skip around to the parts that interest him/her. Don’t you do this with your magazines or newspaper? Can we please extend this adult, lifelong reader habit to our children? We are, after all, trying to help them become lifelong readers, so let’s allow them the privileges that we allow ourselves. If a book appears to be made for browsing small chunks of the topic at a time, let them read it the way they want to, when reading for pleasure.
2. You can find nonfiction books that are tailored to your child’s unique and specific interests. Baby animals. Trucks. The digestive system. Blood. The Netherlands (I was obsessed with the Netherlands as a child). Hurricanes. Holidays around the world. Shapes. Colors. Bodily functions. Space. Sewers. You are the expert on your child, so you may have to go hunting for books based on his/her interests in the nonfiction section of the library. For reluctant readers, having a book tailored to his/her interest is a big deal. I will read anything if it’s about something I already like; kids will do the same.
3. It’s not the dark ages anymore. Even as recently as the 1980s and 90s, when I was a kid, nonfiction books were not nearly as attractive and tantalizing as they are now. If it’s been awhile since you’ve looked at nonfiction books for kids, you’ve got a pleasant surprise coming. Kids, reluctant readers especially, will be drawn in by the incredible photographs; bright, helpful illustrations; and reader-friendly layouts in today’s nonfiction books.
4. Some children just like nonfiction better. Maybe they haven’t been exposed to much nonfiction, for whatever reason. What if nonfiction is THE genre that turns them on to reading? You know that means you absolutely have to try it, right?? Additionally, kids that enjoy and practice reading nonfiction are at an advantage as they get into higher grade levels because from upper elementary school and on, there’s a definite shift into nonfiction reading (think textbooks. articles). If they already know they enjoy this type of reading and can navigate their way through nonfiction text features (things like headings, subheadings, bold words, italic words, etc.), they’re a step (or more) ahead of their classmates.
Whew! Are you convinced it’s time to put aside your nonfiction prejudices and give it a try with your kids? You might even spot a book that interests YOU in the children’s section! Don’t restrain yourself! Get it. Share it with your kids. Think of what an awesome lifelong, adult reading model you are! You get TWO gold stars for that.