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Fiction or Nonfiction: What Should Children Read?

Teachers, librarians, and experts in child development agree that the more children read, the better readers and learners they can become. But we all know that finding time for reading outside of school today, when so many activities compete for a child’s attention, is challenging.

So when a child DOES have a few minutes to spend reading, what should a parent encourage that child to choose, fiction or nonfiction? According to the experts, both types of reading provide children with important skills and other benefits. Reading fiction provides hours of enjoyment, increases a child’s vocabulary and language comprehension, encourages empathy toward other people, and improves communication skills. Reading nonfiction helps develop research skills, adds to a student’s background knowledge in a variety of subjects, and teaches how to critically evaluate sources of information (what sometimes is called “information literacy”).

Studies conducted in the early 2010’s found that outside of school, children tend to read more fiction than nonfiction. At the same time, achievement test results showed that many students who finish high school are not ready for college or careers. As they developed Common Core standards for literacy and language arts, curriculum designers decided that increasing the amount of students’ nonfiction reading—such as biographies—could better prepare students for the years ahead. Today, according to one analysis, the Common Core curriculum requires that high school seniors spend 70 percent of their school reading time on technical or informational nonfiction material, and 30 percent on fiction.

So should children be encouraged to read nonfiction outside of school as well? As in so many situations, parents should choose what is best for a child by considering the child’s reading strengths and the skills that need improvement. Your child’s teacher can identify for you which reading skills your child may need to strengthen and what reading material might be most helpful. And the school librarian or the librarian at your local public library can help you find the material.

A child who devours each Erin Hunter or J. K. Rowling novel as soon as it is published might benefit by occasionally reading the biography of a historical figure or a contemporary sports figure, or by being challenged to prepare a new dish from a cookbook. A child who wants only to create games by coding may benefit by reading science fiction, or a book of Kwame Alexander’s or Jacqueline Woodson’s poetry.

Fiction or nonfiction, children who develop a love of reading will have a skill they can depend on regardless of the path in life they choose.

Image credit: © Wave Break Media/Shutterstock

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