Reading Nonfiction with Your Toddler

On your next trip to the library, don’t just stop at the picture book aisles, wander on over to the nonfiction for kids or juvenile nonfiction. Nonfiction reading for kids does not have to be boring. In fact, we’ve found that toddlers love it! Their little brains are sponges just waiting to absorb all the information about the world that they can. Fill that brain with more than just stories. Fill it with knowledge. It is never too early to start a love for learning and a desire to obtain new information. As you will see, the benefits of nonfiction reading are priceless and there are some simple and fun ways you can encourage this type of reading in your toddler.

Benefits of Reading Nonfiction

A study sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children spend 4 minutes a day reading nonfiction in comparison to over 4 hours a day watching television. Even in families that do emphasize reading, the reading is mostly narrative. All reading is good but what kids read does make a difference. Kids need to be able to read and understand narrative and informational texts. Indeed, a study in 2000 found that reading complex, nonfiction improves achievement because children build “background knowledge.” Background knowledge was found to account for 33% of the variant in achievement between kids in school. Background knowledge becomes important later in elementary school when children begin using textbooks that include features not found in narrative books like headings, charts and indexes. 

When reading nonfiction with your toddler, you will see his vocabulary increase right away. If you are reading books about firefighters, don’t be surprised if your child is telling you the names for the parts of a fire truck next time you see one. He will start calling dogs by their breed if you read a book about types of dogs and he will know the names of all the tools used by his doctor at his next check up if you read a book about going to the doctor. Vocabulary development is important because it allows your child to express himself more fully and it will lead to better reading and writing skills later on. When your child knows and understands more words, he can think on a deeper level.

Introducing nonfiction to your child will activate a desire to learn about the things he is interested in. Once he realizes that he can get all the information he wants about things that excite him, he will want to keep on taking in that new information. When he discovers a new interest, he will immediately want to learn more about it. This is where a love of learning can begin. You create a habit of seeking out information that is interesting.

Features of Juvenile Nonfiction

Your local library will have books on about any topic you can imagine. There is no doubt that you can find something that interests your child and is age appropriate. If you look around different libraries you can find nonfiction books on anything and everything. For example, books on broad topics like animals, cars and trucks, crafts, geography, weather and common things children experience like going to the dentist. You can also find books on very specific topics that could be read to help your child prepare for or cope with something. For example, there are books on disabilities, pink eye, and what it is like when your mom has cancer.

Children’s nonfiction has the same features as adult nonfiction, allowing children to be familiar with doing research long before they will need to do so. Many of these books have a table of contents, an index, and resources to go to for more information. Another cool feature of nonfiction is that more difficult words are written out phonetically to help new readers. Can you imagine having a kid in today’s world who knows how to do research without Google? It is possible if you encourage your child to read nonfiction books.

Apply What you Read

Try these three things to apply what your child has learned about from nonfiction books.  

  1. Incorporate words and ideas into imaginary play. After reading firefighter books over and over, pretend to be firefighters together. Reenact a scene from one of the books. Call out words that were new to both of you from your reading. He will think it is so fun to talk and act like the real firefighters he learned about while you were reading.
  2. Ask your toddler questions to practice recalling information. Right after you read a book, flip back through and ask him to tell you what was happening in a picture. If a page in a book about the doctor’s office has the doctor’s tools, ask him to tell you what the tools are called. In a way, you are teaching your child how to study. Also, being able to recall information from reading is an important skill needed for school and beyond.
  3. Have deeper conversations with your child about an experience. If you read a book to prepare your child for a new experience or to help your child deal with something that has happened, use the information from the book to discuss what has happened or what is happening with your child. The factual nature of the book can be a good jumping off point for a conversation that may include how your child is feeling. Because he is equipped with new knowledge and vocabulary, he can fully discuss it with you.

Have fun with the nonfiction section of the library. Get creative in how you and your toddler use the knowledge you gain from these wonderful books. Make books the place you teach your toddler to turn to for information before going to your computer. While he will of course use digital learning and research throughout his life, don’t let books get left behind, especially at this young age in which reading is so valuable! He has his whole life to Google stuff. Start him off with the love of reading, both for pleasure and for information.

Photo Credit: Kristen Lee Douglas
Source: The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

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Kristen lives in Alabama with her handsome hubby and sweet son. Happily, she left behind the life of a Washington D.C. attorney to be a stay at home mama in the south. Her days are filled with writing, photography, and dance parties with her son. On a mission to use her life to love God and love others, you will also find her fiercely working on the many causes near and dear to her heart. She gets it all done thanks to Jesus, chai tea, dark chocolate, and wine.

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