It has always been important for parents to read with their elementary school children. Whether it’s exploring faraway lands in fairytales and fables, or examining moral dilemmas through their favorite storybook characters, parents have the unique ability to bring these powerful stories alive for young readers. Though reading fiction can allow their imagination to run wild, it is equally important to expose your child to a variety of other types of texts throughout their childhood. In fact, with the adoption of new standards across the country, the importance of informational texts is rising. Informational texts (or info texts) are books and websites that teach about science and social studies topics, texts that teach people how to do something, biographies, and other nonfiction written works. About half of the books your elementary school child is reading at school will be info texts. Finding ways to incorporate these at home can be quite hard for parents, so we talked with Parent Toolkit expert and University of Michigan Education Professor Nell Duke to find out about 8 activities you can do at home to help expose your child to more informational texts.
Books before bed
Reading is always a great way to help your child unwind before falling asleep, but books don’t have to be fiction. Try incorporating a nonfiction book. Books about science, history or other cultures are great ways to expose your child to new ideas during this special time with you. When picking which book to read before bed, it is important to choose a book that is above your child’s current reading level. This will help expose them to more complex vocabulary.
Visit a library
Check out the nonfiction section of your local library or bookstore. There, you can find books at your child’s reading level as well as more challenging books you can read to your child. Most libraries and bookstores have a wide selection of nonfiction books targeted to younger children; you just have to know where to look. If you are having trouble finding something that seems appropriate, seek out the help of your local librarian. They can recommend a great nonfiction book that would pique your child’s interests.
Build on your child’s interests
Find nonfiction books that align with your child’s interests. If they are interested in dinosaurs, then select them dinosaur books. If they are a skateboarder, find skateboarding books. Even if the topic on the surface doesn’t seem to have a direct nonfiction connection, there might be a creative tie-in out there. For example, let’s say they are really fascinated by playing Angry Birds. National Geographic has produced an entire series using the Angry Birds characters to feature actual predator birds from across the world. If you have a child who is interested in princesses and dragons, try highlighting some of the mythical creatures that appear in the real world, like Komodo dragons and narwhals.
Don’t forget the web
Book stores and libraries aren’t the only place to find great reading material. The internet has a ton of sites designed for kids as well. For example, Kids.gov has interactive games, videos and information about a variety of topics your child may like. National Geographic Kids is another child-friendly site. Professor Duke also recommends PBS Kids and their Creaturepedia and Dinosaur Train sites. Bookmark the websites your child likes so she can easily find them again.
Watch informational television
As a family, watch television programs or videos that are focused on conveying information about the natural world. Most people don’t realize this, but the script that the narrator is reading and the sound bites of experts being interviewed are actually other versions of info texts. Whether it’s a documentary about animals or the latest television special about ancient Egypt, all of these programs are great for building your child’s background knowledge about various topics and exposing them to new ideas.
Subscribe to magazines
Even though most of the world may be moving online, there are still printed magazines for kids that feature nonfiction articles. Professor Duke recommends the children’s magazines Click and Muse as great places to start. If your child is more of a sports fan than a natural history buff, have him check out Sport Illustrated for Kids. American Girl also has some biographies and informational pieces throughout their magazine.
Encourage your child to write about the different things he is learning through reading nonfiction books and other info texts. You could have him write a letter to a grandparent detailing the information from a book he just read about fish or have him create an original children’s book for his younger cousins to teach them all about the rainforest. The possibilities are nearly endless.
Do projects together
Seek info texts that you can read together about projects you are doing at home. If you are cooking for a party, have your child read the recipe with you. If you are going to the movies, look up information about the characters or the actors in the film prior to leaving for the theatre. Even the everyday task of going to the post office can be made into a learning experience by connecting your child with a story about the history and importance of the post office. Connecting texts directly to your child’s experience will be very powerful for him.