Surround Your Children With Non-Fiction Books

It allows them to absorb random, interesting facts about the world.

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children's non-fiction books
A few of the non-fiction books lying around our kitchen.

K Martinko

Sometimes it seems like my children know more about the world than I do. At the very least, they're experts in random facts about the natural world that they like to spout freely throughout the day. Take, for example, the facts I've learned this morning, according to my kids: 

  • Bengal tigers have the strongest teeth in the world. They're so deeply anchored in their jaws that they can pull up to five times their weight. 
  • Tiger sharks use their teeth as a saw, wiggling their body to cut through pieces of flesh to eat. They don't bite and rip like most other sharks.
  • Your feet sweat more than any other part of your body. 
  • A pack of velociraptors could take down a full-grown T-rex, despite only being the size of a dog.
  • Yeti crabs are massive and really hairy and live atop deep-sea vents. They eat the bacteria that emerge from those vents and attach to their hairy legs. 

This is just a small sampling of the random facts that infiltrate a typical day in my household, and while I don't usually give them much thought beyond a nod and murmur of acknowledgment to satisfy the kids, it dawned on me that they must have access to an extraordinary source of information.

That source is children's non-fiction books, of which we have a near-limitless number. They're stacked on every side table and bookshelf and bedside floor. We check them out of the library by the dozen, buy them cheap at the thrift store, and give them as gifts. I have boxes of them in the basement that I swap out whenever they need fresh material. While I've always provided these books to my children in hopes that they'd absorb the information within, it's only recently that I feel like it's truly paying off. 

A brief article by Austin Kleon drew my attention to this. He wrote that children's non-fiction literature is the easiest way to get fast knowledge because the information is packaged in such a fun, approachable way. He quoted Jeopardy champion James Holzhauer, who said,

"I have a strategy of reading children’s books to gain knowledge. I’ve found that in an adult reference book, if it’s not a subject I’m interested in, I just can’t get into it. I was thinking, what is the place in the library I can go to to get books tailored to make things interesting for uninterested readers? Boom. The children’s section."

Much is made of the value in reading aloud to one's children. It introduces them to authors and the magic of a well-told story, promotes bonding, offers a distraction from screen time, establishes a reading habit, and more. But just as important, I'm coming to realize, is exposing children to heaps of non-fiction books so that they can peruse them at their own leisure and absorb the random, fascinating facts that all young children seem to love so much. 

Indeed, this aligns with the first stage of the ancient classical education model, the Trivium, that my parents used when they homeschooled me so many years ago. It's called the "grammar" stage, and it's the perfect time for random factoid accumulation. It doesn't matter what subject it pertains to, young children just crave facts to memorize. As they grow older and graduate to the logic (understanding) and rhetoric (communication) stages of their education, they learn how to use that information in effective ways; but without that initial absorption phase, they have little to work with.

And so I urge any of you readers who are also parents of school-aged children to prioritize the distribution of non-fiction books throughout your household. Leave them anywhere and everywhere, and let the kids pick them up and discover how interesting the real world is. Having those facts stored in their memories make field trips more interesting, too, because they'll be able to tell you things when you visit a forest, zoo, or aquarium. Never underestimate the power of books to expand one's view of the world!