A+ Advice for Parents

Introduce Nonfiction by Focusing on Kids' Interests

Q: I feel guilty when I see the note my son's third-grade teacher sent home in June: "Read lots of nonfiction this summer!" He likes Lemony Snicket books, but other stuff? Not so much. Why the push for nonfiction?

A: Third grade is often the year that kids -- especially boys -- figure out that reading independently can be fun. Trust me, if your son reads only Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events" (lemonysnicket.com), his teachers will still be thrilled.

At least he is reading. Many studies indicate that students can lose up to three months of reading skills during summer vacation if they don't practice. (For more information, check out summerlearning.org.)

Why the emphasis on nonfiction? It introduces young readers to real people, places and things that get us talking, like the world's biggest airplane or a tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon.

Nonfiction boosts vocabulary and teaches students background knowledge to do well in math, science, social studies and the arts.

Many nonfiction genres appeal to kids: biographies and autobiographies, science and history books, magazines and newspapers, and information-packed almanacs.

Here's an easy way to integrate nonfiction reading into your summer. Pick a topic of interest to your son, like weather. It's always changing, often unpredictable and summer activities are shaped by it.

Study the microclimate in your area. Listen to local weather or download the free Weather Channel app to your smartphone to note forecasts. Then chart actual temperature, rainfall totals and observed weather in your backyard for a month. Do your observations match the forecasts?

Check out weather-related books from the library. "National Geographic Kids Everything Weather" (National Geographic Children's Books, 2012) and "Scholastic Discover More: Weather" (Scholastic Reference, 2013) will introduce your son to weather phenomena and vocabulary. Pair this reading with exciting action stories, such as "Storm Runners" (Scholastic Paperbacks, 2012) or "I Survived Hurricane Katrina, 2005" (Scholastic Paperbacks, 2011).

Bird-watching is another great summer activity enriched with reading. "Gather a bird guide, binoculars and a pencil and notebook for notes and sketching," says children's science author Sandra Markle. One popular guide is "Birds, Nests and Eggs" (Cooper Square Publishing LLC, 1998).

"Observe birds outdoors. Discuss their activity," says Markle. "Do you see only one kind or several? Can you mimic their voices so that they call back to you?"

For further reference, she suggests checking out the National Audubon Society's website at audubon.org.

Read Markle's concept book "The Long, Long Journey" (Millbrook/Lerner, 2013), an amazing bird migration story. It describes a young bar-tailed godwit, hatched in Alaska. The bird spends the summer learning to fly, find food and escape from scary predators. In October, the godwit flies to New Zealand on a 7,000-mile, nonstop bird migration, the longest ever recorded.

"Nonfiction books aren't ends in themselves. They're the beginnings of lifelong interests," says Markle. "Complement them with information from multiple media sources that you can return to often, and your son will develop a new habit: reading for information."

Find grade-level appropriate summer reading suggestions at commonsensemedia.org and pinterest.com/greatschools.

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

More like A+ Advice for Parents