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The Benefits of Nonfiction for Early Readers

The Benefits of Nonfiction for Early Readers

Education experts believe nonfiction might be the key to a non-reader’s heart. Find a topic that interests your child and look for exciting nonfiction on that topic. But start small with one topic, such as dinosaurs, trucks, outer space, animals or something else that you know your child likes.

Whatever the topic, continue to read aloud classic picture books, but supplement with nonfiction. Although the Internet has countless pages and sites devoted to information about every topic under the sun, there’s something special about opening a giant-sized book that draws in even the most reluctant reader. Pre-historic beasts or giant snakes seem to leap from the pages of the book as a child holds it up to examine pictures from every angle, something not possible on even the largest computer screen.

The advent of the Internet has been embraced as the “best” way to find information. But educator and author Kim Fulcher writes that the Internet, while more child-friendly than a set of encyclopedias, is one-dimensional. “Beautiful nonfiction books in print today,” she writes, “are at once a source of knowledge and the beginning of a sense of wonder” absent on the Web.

Furthermore, interesting and colorful nonfiction can be an antidote to the abysmal amount of time children spend reading. A national study sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average child in the United States spends an average of five hours a day watching television and playing video games. Fewer than four minutes a day, the study found, is spent reading nonfiction.

Educator Fulcher believes the benefits of reading nonfiction are many, but four stand out:

  • It offers a portal into the understanding that is vital for self-confidence and for feeling powerful—when we understand science, we are less likely to fall prey to superstition and to value fantasy and the power of imagination…
  • It can be the springboard to understanding how and why the world works…
  • It helps children assimilate the language of science history and academia and helps them learn academic subjects more easily as they progress through upper grades.
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    It can be the best way to entice a nonreader into giving reading another try. Gaining access to facts and ideas about something that fascinates a child can be just the sweetener needed to struggle through those early reading days.

For the parent of a beginning reader, some of these reasons may sound premature, but educators disagree. According to an article by Melissa Perry on the Website Educational Leadership, teachers encourage parents to read more nonfiction with their children because it builds on a child’s interests and curiosity, as well as increasing vocabulary and background knowledge.

“Nonfiction differs from fiction because it requires reading for content and information…giving children the opportunity to practice gleaning facts, statistics, instructions and other information from text, diagrams, charts and photographs…a skill used in daily life,” Perry writes.

Perry also believes that “whether following a recipe or deciphering a bus schedule…the ability to sift out necessary details is required to be successful.” Paired with fiction on a similar topic, children gain valuable tools to navigate their world.

The Islip Public Library not only has an extensive collection of nonfiction for early readers, it has Book Bundles, which contain picture books paired with nonfiction on a variety of topics, from princesses to firetrucks. Look for the books just opposite the reference desk in the children’s department.

As Common Core standards continue to emphasize the importance of nonfiction reading to prepare students for middle school, high school and college, educators stress the importance of nonfiction reading. Such a base of information, established in childhood, will help students develop important research and evaluation skills, which educators call information literacy.

Additionally, early emphasis on nonfiction, even for children as young as two or three, may be a solution to a growing problem cited by Connie Matthiessen, writing for the website greatschools.org. “Many colleges, she writes, “have discovered that incoming freshmen may be able to compute a math problem or analyze a short story, but they can’t read complex nonfiction or write a well-researched essay.”

Matthiessen cites research by the Leadership and Learning Center that “shows that workplace reading has become more complex in recent years,” and that, most shocking, “jobs that demand low reading and writing skills are being sent overseas, so even entry-level jobs now demand higher reading skills.”

To spark your child’s nonfiction reading, Matthiessen offers tips:

  • Pursue the passion: get books that encourage your child’s interests.
  • More is more: offers lots of nonfiction reading material—from books and magazines to newspapers and atlases.
  • Be the bookworm yourself: read a broad range of fiction and nonfiction and talk about what you read.
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    Reality check: talk about connections between what your child is reading and events in the news.
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    Get the lowdown: ask your child’s teacher if your child’s reading list includes nonfiction. If not, ask why.

Embarking on a plan to guide your child through the educational years ahead may seem overwhelming, so start small. Pick a topic your child talks about and start there. Below are a few nonfiction series available at most libraries that will appeal to young children.

  • The Magic School Bus series
  • National Geographic Kids
  • Backyard Books
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    Magic Treehouse companion books
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    “What was…” series
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    “Who was…” series
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    “I survived…” series

Whatever you choose, spend time reading along with your child and discussing the topics. You may find that one topic of interest leads to another. Instead of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…”, you can create your own family story of “If You Give a Child a Nonfiction Book.”

Donna Jeansonne

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