Five tips for reading non-fiction at bedtime

Sometimes ‘reading’ is misunderstood to mean ‘fiction’. By assuming this we miss out on an incredible range of books and reading experiences that we can be having with our children.  This misconception can also put children, who are reluctant readers, or simply have a thirst for facts, images, or non-linear reading experiences, on the back foot and take them away from the pleasure of reading. While a child is learning to read, we can also forget that reading for pleasure is important and not to make the experience a chore. Finally, reading at bedtime, as well as making reading fun, is also a great time for parents/guardians and children to bond further. Research has found that reading a book together is ‘an expression of love’[1] and ‘encourages cuddles [and] eye contact and facilitates quality time together’[2].

So how do you make non-fiction a part of your bedtime routine? Here are DK’s five top tips for enjoying non-fiction with your children:

  1. Facts at random…

Reading doesn’t have to work through the beginning, middle and finish at the end chapter by chapter. Add to the experience of bedtime by grabbing a book and getting your child or children to pick a page number at random. This works for all kinds of books but works especially well for books such as 13 ½ Incredible Things You Need to Know about Everything, where each page has mind-blowing facts and a mythbuster which dispels something you thought you knew. Did you know that chameleons usually change colour to attract a mate, not to hide? Or that there can be a million people in the air at any one time?

  1. Choose your own adventure

I’m sure we all remember the excitement of the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ stories. You can apply this technique to non-fiction. It works well when the book also helps you! Pick up a copy of DK Children’s Encyclopedia and select your child’s favourite subject, what they’re currently learning at school, or a page at random. Try Dinosaurs, where you will discover some cool facts including that dinosaur remains have been found on every continent, including Antarctica! Then go to the ‘See also’ box at the top of the page and choose where you go next – Asteroids? Birds? Fossils? Prehistoric Life? Reptiles? Rocks and minerals? Carry on and see where your non-fiction adventure takes you!

  1. Picture the scene

At a young age, the reading experience is about the physical object not just the words. So spend time exploring everything on the page – this is where visual non-fiction really shines! Discuss everything you can see in the pictures. In a book such as Explanatorium of Nature you can marvel at the antennae of a moth while you discover how they work, and look at a giraffe’s tongue and find out why it is that unusual colour (spoiler: to stop it getting sun burnt!). Allow yourself and your child to move from the text to the picture as seems natural to you.

  1. The truth is out there…

Reading fiction and non-fiction are not exclusive. While you are reading classic fairy tales, Harry Potter or any favourite fiction, there will be elements you don’t know the answer to about the things featured. Or why not link your bedtime to a favourite film or TV show? If your child loves Disney’s The Jungle Book use My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals to look up the elephants, big cats and apes to find out what they are really like. Did you know that tigers are the biggest of all the big cats? This is why Shere Khan is so scary!

  1. What’s your favourite….?

Make your bedtime reading an interactive session by asking each other lots of questions. Pick a page from a book such as Children’s Illustrated Animal Atlas and ask, which is your favourite animal on here? Why? What kind of habitat does it live in? What would it be like to live there? And see where your discussion goes.

By following these tips you will find that reading non-fiction just becomes part of your bedtime routine, and you and your child will decide what to read together. You can also do as NNFN does and theme your bedtime reading experience for the month, so why not start now with NNFN’s theme ‘The World Around You’ and see where it takes you.

This guest post was provided by Sarah Larter, DK Children’s Publishing Director. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG. 

[1] Print Matters,

[2] As above

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