November 16, 2009

Kids and Reading: Don't Neglect Non-Fiction

I came across an article tonight that reminded me of something important: many parents neglect the non-fiction section when (or if) they get books for their children.  Non-fiction can be a powerful motivator to get kids interested in reading and learning at the same time.  Why?  Because it's fun!

Many adults hear "non-fiction" and think "dry, dull and boring;" and that's a real loss.  Well written non-fiction can be just as interesting as fiction, and it has particular benefits that fiction lacks.

As I child, I spent hours poring over books on animals while my brother read up on spiders, bees and other insects.  Later I developed an intense interest in history, which was fostered by the American Girl books.  The books themselves are fiction, but the final chapter is always the "Peek into the Past," which was, for me, the most fascinating part of the book.  Getting the facts gave me a platform on which to form my own ideas, stories and games.

And that's an important point; when a child reads non-fiction that interests them, they gain facts that help them form their own ideas.  Properly selected and handled non-fiction help children think for themselves and turn on their imaginations.

Here are a few tips on adding non-fiction to your child's library:

  • Tune in to your child's interests.  If you try to force a kid to read about something he's not interested in, that makes it work.  Don't make reading work.  Animals, insects, outer space, various historical periods, sports, music, art, famous people and many other topics are popular choices.  Or try browsing the favorite website of my husband's youth,, with your child to spark an interest.  
  • Listen to your child.  I can't tell you how valuable it is to children to be heard.  Know that you can relax as a parent: let your child teach you something occasionally.  If your child is excited about something they learned from reading on their own, listen!  Encourage that habit!  Sitting back and saying, "I didn't know that about dung beetles!" won't undermine your authority; it will give your child confidence and promote a healthy interest.  
  • And if you don't care about dung beetles?  Sorry, it's not your interest.  It's your child's interest.  When we love people, we sometimes have to listen to things we might not be thrilled to hear about.  Model that kind of love.  
  • Make reading part of your life.  Kids watch their parents; if you value reading as something you did once in school, long ago, your child will take the same stance and view reading as a passing obligation. But if your kids see you read to relax, unwind or stay informed (magazines, newspapers, etc), it opens their eyes to new possibilities.  So don't hide your reading away in the office or bathroom.  Try turning off the TV every now and then and reading as a family in your living room.  Your children will thank you.  

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