Three reasons why nonfiction is good for children. If you fell in love with fiction as a kid, you might be surprised to learn that children’s nonfiction is booming. This summer, Publishers Weekly suggested that children’s nonfiction is “having its moment,” due in part to Minecraft’s continued popularity and Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction. Meanwhile, literacy advocates like the Federation of Children’s Book Groups and Scottish Book Trust are raising the profile of children’s nonfiction in the UK.

Still, when you imagine reading nonfiction with your children or students, you might be a bit bewildered. Curling up with nonfiction sounds about as exciting and enlightening as reading a phone book. Why even have the Yellow Pages in the Google age?

But the fact is that nonfiction is good for kids. So is fiction, of course; the two are complementary, not mutually exclusive. As teacher and storyteller Karyn Keene puts it, “Fiction opens other worlds; nonfiction opens this one.”

To find out how nonfiction “opens” our world for kids, we asked teachers to share the concrete ways they see nonfiction impact their students. Here’s what we learned: Three reasons why nonfiction is good for children.

Nonfiction sparks kids’ inherent curiosity.

Has a preschooler ever driven you nuts by repeatedly asking, “Why?” If you’ve ever been around a four-year-old for even four minutes, you’re probably nodding. As elementary technology teacher Vanessa Vosburg explains, “Children have a natural desire to learn about the world around them and are highly motivated to explore materials that will answer their questions.” Thus, giving kids easily-accessible knowledge in the form of children’s nonfiction ignites their natural desire to learn.

For example, the labelled illustrations in Wonderful Words give children an easy way to learn the names of different objects, people and places. Familiar sights are labeled, like swings and skateboards; as are potentially less-familiar ones, like hummus and a hearing aid loop sign. When a child learns words for objects she’s never seen, her world expands. With a jolt of joy, she realizes that the adventure of learning will never end.

Nonfiction develops contextual knowledge, helping kids to make connections.

It’s difficult to absorb new information when you have no context for it—no place to put a city on your mental map, or no culture in which to place a person. For this reason, young children have a distinct disadvantage when encountering new places, people or ideas. Fortunately, nonfiction books give children the factual knowledge they need to process new ideas effectively and face the world around them with curiosity instead of fear. As history teacher Emily Anderson explains, reading nonfiction in early grades “helps kids to make connections more easily as they get older.” In other words, the more you know, the more you can know—and the more fun learning becomes!

Three reasons why nonfiction is good for children.

For example, our World Atlas illustrations locate familiar people and places in their geographic context alongside less familiar landmarks, which enables a child to weave new facts into her existing purview. With each colorful spread, the reader’s tapestry of knowledge expands, and with it, her comprehension of our complex world.

Even today’s world needs to be understood in the context of yesterday’s. Since we can’t understand the present without the past, our Atlas explores how each region’s climate and geography has influenced its cultural development. By introducing kids to the forces that shaped the past, we prepare them to understand the present and identify ways that they, too, could impact the future.

Kids discover real-world heroes.

Speaking of the past: There’s nothing more motivational than a true story. Nonfiction shows children “real heroes and real people in both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances,” Ms. Anderson says. When a child reads about the incredible achievements of real people like Rosa Parks, Ada Lovelace, Cesar Chavez or Leonardo da Vinci, he realizes that even he, too, could do the extraordinary.

“Seeing these real people gives kids heroes to look up to, people whose heroics they could achieve themselves,” Ms. Keene says. “Nonfiction could inspire our future social activists or research scientists.” In this way, she adds, nonfiction “opens doors of possibility for children.”

Our world is full of things for children to learn and do and be. With nonfiction books like World Atlas and Wonderful Words, the door to that world is open: all children have to do is step through.

But wait: what does print nonfiction do for children that a web or mobile resource can’t? That was our next question for elementary technology teacher Vanessa Vosburg. Find out her answer in our next post!

 

For example, our World Atlas illustrations locate familiar people and places in their geographic context alongside less familiar landmarks, which enables a child to weave new facts to existing knowledge. With each colorful spread, the reader’s tapestry knowledge expands, and with it, her understanding of complex world.

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