Real World Reading with Preschoolers

Created by Susan Stephenson of The Book Chook

A few weeks ago I read a column in the Washington Post by Jay Matthews.  He lamented about how restrictive reading lists are for middle and high school students and how they haven’t really changed from when he was in high school, in other words there is very little nonfiction on the reading lists!  Mathews stated, “Educators say non-fiction is more difficult than fiction for students to comprehend. It requires more factual knowledge, beyond fiction’s simple truths of love, hate, passion and remorse. So we have a pathetic cycle. Students don’t know enough about the real world because they don’t read non-fiction and they can’t read non-fiction because they don’t know enough about the real world.”

As an educator, I have heard colleagues say how non-fiction is more difficult than fiction for students to comprehend, as Mr. Matthews stated.  My answer always was, “We need to teach them how to read nonfiction.  We need to expose students to the joys of reading nonfiction.”  After all, that’s our job as educators, isn’t it?  But, it’s not just an educator’s job.  Our children actually spend way more time outside of school than in school, so really, teaching our children falls on us as parents as well.

In my opinion, it’s never too early to introduce nonfiction texts into our children’s lives.  Perhaps if we begin immersing our children in nonfiction as preschoolers (when they have a natural curiosity for the world around them and they are full of energy for learning!), they will grow up with a natural love for learning and passion for reading.  And really, the earlier we introduce nonfiction into our children’s lives the easier it becomes for them to understand how to read it.  Maybe we can begin to break the “pathetic cycle” and create a generation of readers who enjoy nonfiction!

So here I have for you just a few ways you can integrate nonfiction into your preschooler’s life:

  1. Read Aloud Nonfiction Texts – Anytime your preschooler shows an interest in a particular topic, provide nonfiction books on that topic.  When you read informational texts aloud to your child (and you don’t have to read nonfiction from cover to cover!), you are building his/her background knowledge.
  2. Expose Your Child to Real World Nonfiction Print – Provide real-world nonfiction text for pretend play.  For example, if your child is pretending to be a waiter or work in a restaurant, have some take-out menus on hand for him to use.  If your child is playing post office, provide him with some junk mail to sort.  This can easily turn into a math activity as well.  Kids can sort the mail by color or size.  When your child turns your family room into a waiting room at the doctor or dentist office, provide magazines and newspapers for him.
  3. Introduce Text Features If your child has a particular question about a topic, use that opportunity to discuss and show your child a few text features of nonfiction texts.  Perhaps he wants to know what a specific dinosaur eats; demonstrate how you can use the table of contents or the index to try to locate the answer quickly, rather than reading through the whole book.  If you come upon a word that you know your child will have difficulty understanding, demonstrate how to use a glossary.  If there isn’t a glossary, explain to your child what the word means.  Briefly, explain how we read differently for different purposes.
  4. Provide Hands-on Experiences A combination of texts and real-life or hands-on experiences is most powerful for learning.  You can use this three-step process to incorporate nonfiction texts into your preschooler’s reading repertoire.  Through these steps you will build your child’s background knowledge (essential to comprehending texts):
  • Select a text based on a topic that interests your child.
  • Hands-On/Read World – Prior to reading, provide an opportunity for your child to have a hands-on experience of some sort related to the topic.  Utilize the outside world as much as possible (outdoors in general, museums, special exhibits, etc.)
  • Read Aloud -Read aloud the text asking questions as you read.  Provide explanations if you believe your child’s comprehension may be breaking down.
  • Connect – Draw comparisons between the experience the child had and the text. How are they alike? How are they different? Help your child make connections.

Reading nonfiction texts with preschoolers provides a natural connection to their own curiosities about the world.   Having background knowledge about topics helps children comprehend what they read.  By building upon the world knowledge of your preschooler now, you are setting a foundation that will only serve to guide them when they begin reading on their own.

What if we begin with our youngest learners?  What are other ways we can introduce nonfiction into the lives of preschoolers?

Parts of this post were originally written as a guest post on No Time For Flash Cards in August 2009

Please note that this post is part of the Share a Story-Shape a Future Literacy Blog Tour, which is being hosted at The Reading Zone today with the topic, Just the Facts: The Nonfiction Book Hook.  Thank you for stopping by!  I hope you visit again soon!

©2010 by Dawn Little for Literacy Toolbox. All Rights Reserved.  All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.


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9 Responses to “Real World Reading with Preschoolers”

  1. Terry Doherty Says:

    I love your idea of incorporating real world texts, because it helps kids see how reading is relevant to “getting through the day.” How will they know what to eat if they can’t read a menu? Another idea may be to build simple treasure hunts for them. Even with pictures, they are deciphering a clue and following a step (decoding and sequencing).

  2. Cathy Puett Miller AKA The Literacy Ambassador Says:

    You know, I’ve always thought that we overdid the difference between reading fiction and nonfiction. Although there are certainly differences in the format, when you are a strong reader, you can read either. And we all flex, according to the density of the text, in our fluency, regardless of whether it is fiction or nonfiction.

    I also love the idea of “real world” reading. That’s the best way for parents to give children an authentic reason to read is to read “their world” and share text that connects to interesting topics.

    Thanks so much for this article!

  3. Dawn Riccardi Morris Says:

    Great post, Dawn!

    Nonfiction picture books are such a valuable resource (especially the photographic ones), but they seem to be rarely used in homes and classrooms. They’re perfect for all ages of elementary school readers, and children prefer them to the textbook any day!

    Many nonfiction books have a very organized layout, with each new topic highlighted in bold. They can be great resources for learning how subject matter is organized.

    There’s a form of nonfiction out there for every type of reader. Seeking it out may be time consuming, but children learn so much in the process. Once they find one great book, they can find another one to link it with – even if it’s in another genre, such as historical fiction.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas, Dawn!

  4. Caroline @ Learning Parade Says:

    I really enjoyed this post! I think it is crucial for children to explore nonfiction at an early age, so they can develop reading for a purpose. Early exposure to dictionaries, magazines, maps, leaflets, bus timetables etc helps us to build life skills.
    Select an appropriate question before reading and then your child can find the information for you!

  5. Book Chook Says:

    I love the point about focusing on the real world and linking that with the nonfiction we share with kids. Helping kids make connections is so important and really enriches any literature experience.

  6. Share A Story-Shape a Future: The Nonfiction Book Hook! « The Reading Zone Says:

    […] Real World Reading with Preschoolers at Links to Literacy […]

  7. Tif Says:

    What great ideas! I’m loving all these thoughts on nonfiction!! Thank you!!

  8. uberVU - social comments Says:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by JeanetteMcLeod: RT @linkstoliteracy: Share a Story, Shape a Future – Real World Reading with Preschoolers:

  9. Kids love nonfiction - it's a fact. | Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, a Reading Tub Blog Says:

    […] Little, who is talking about Real World Reading with Preschoolers … at the Literacy […]

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