Reading to Kids: What You Might Consider Doing Differently


A Preference Towards Fiction

When we think about books that were read to us as a child, most of us will think of classics like “Good Night Moon,” “Mother Goose,” or any classic fairy tales. Books we read for pleasure in elementary and middle school were anything from Harry Potter to The Babysitter’s Club, and I’ve caught many high-schoolers keeping Twilight novels in the folds of their science or history textbooks.

This cultural preference towards reading fiction for pleasure definitely helps to explain why students have difficulty reading informational texts in school. Informational texts are typically the most complex and involve the most attention to detail. They are frequently un-relatable for students and cause much confusion and anxiety, which is then exacerbated by demands put on them by the school curriculum.

Why is This Important?

In order to function in a work environment and in college, students will definitely need to know how to access complex informational text. It is for this reason that the Core Curriculum requires more reading of informational texts than previous trends in education, and also why schools are emphasizing techniques like critical thinking and close reading.

With this shift in curriculum, it follows logically that we should be preparing our students differently in their early years when we are first exposing them to reading. If they become familiar with these types of texts in the comfort of their own homes when they have been presented in a non-threatening manner, they are much more likely to be comfortable with it once they encounter it in school.

How Do I Teach Reading Informational Text?

Here are some that you can use when teaching informational text at home in order to give your kids a head start. With exposure to a variety of content and support on how to process that content, we can definitely see a shift in how students approach informational texts at school. Remember, it’s always important to encourage active reading any time we read with our children.

1. Expose young students to a variety of reading topics and materials. Background knowledge is the most important factor in reading comprehension in school! Keep a collection of books on a variety of topics. Even if your child doesn’t seem interested in a topic at first, they may become curious after they’ve read the other books.

2. If students are resistant to non-fiction, have them read what they want to read, and then create a bridge by picking a related topic for your non-fiction selection. An example would be if you’re reading “The Frog Prince,” pair it with an age-appropriate informational text about frogs.

3. Before you read, have the child make some predictions about the book based off of the pictures and the title. Ask them things like, “What do you think this book is about? Why?” “What do you already know about frogs?” This will get them thinking critically before they even start reading and will allow them to start making connections as soon as you start. This is a good practice for all types of reading.

4. While you are reading the non-fiction text, be sure to ask a question at the end of every page. Some questions should be easy in order to build confidence. Examples would be “What do frogs eat?” “What color are frogs?” Then, slowly increase the complexity of questions in order to help students make connections with things they already know that don’t appear in the text. Examples would be “What other animals do you know that eat bugs?” or “What other animals live in the forest?” Lastly, ask them to make some inferences. Examples are “Why do you think we should learn about animals?” “What do you think would happen to frogs if there were no more forests?” or “Do you think that The Frog Prince could happen in real life? Why or why not?” Even if they are incorrect with what they say, it teaches them to make connections and predictions and think outside of the text. This is something that even the brightest, most hard-working students are challenged by at all levels.

5. If your child is having difficulty answering one of the questions that you posed, help them reread for the answer. If they still can’t locate the answer, provide it for them. However, if you provide the answer for them, model to them how you got there with thinking aloud. Example: “Hmm, I wonder what frogs eat but I don’t know the answer. I’m going to first look at the pictures and see if I can find any context clues. Oh, that’s interesting, I see the frog eating a bug with his tongue. I wonder what type of bug that is. Let me reread this page to find out. Oh, I see that it says that frogs eat flies and mosquitos and other types of bugs. I don’t know for sure, but I bet it’s one of those things.”

6. After you’ve read the book, ask your child what they thought was interesting about the book. If they get stuck, ask them what new things they learned!

7. After reading, take opportunities to make connections to the child’s life and other books that they are reading. Examples: “Oh, I see a frog in the grass. What do you think he is doing? We read that in the book, didn’t we?” “Hmm, it says here that salamanders eat bugs. That reminds me of what we read about frogs in the book last night!”

8. Lastly, show enthusiasm for what you are reading, even if you have to fake it! Your kids will mirror you.