I read this post recently and it reminded me of something. When we started going to Jack’s Reggio playgroup I noticed that the activities were almost always accompanied by a non-fiction book; not for display but for the children to use. I wasn’t quite sure why they were there at first; they reminded me of the kinds of things I used to do as a teacher when we had Open Day and parents would come in to see their children’s work on display. To be honest I thought the books looked a little fancy and educational but wasn’t entirely convinced that the children took any notice of them. After a little while though I noticed that Jack started to do drawings and sculptures based on what he had seen in the books.
So I did a little more research and started to include non-fiction books in our activities. The pictures stimulate discussion and experimentation and the words introduce new vocabulary in context; lava, erupting, magma, crater or insects, composting, habitat. Then as Jack drew or sculpted or imagined he started to use these words as he represented his understanding through art or play; an understanding of play and the natural world.
Emperor Penguins started to live in Antarctica (a white play silk or a lump of clay), Volcanologists (play people) started wearing Thermal Suits while they looked at the lava (red play silk) coming from the active volcano (cardboard box), habitats (leaves, rocks, tree blocks) were made for the insects. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am by no means saying that Jack is a genius for knowing these terms, just that by having the non-fiction books on the shelves in the playroom next to the activities, and having read them many, many times, he has started to understand their meaning and so is using them now in play.
Fictional books introduce children to fantastical characters and scenes but non-fiction books too are a wonderful source of information and inspiration. They’re not just for knowledge, not just scientific, rather when combined with activities, imaginative and creative, non-fiction books really can lead to a deeper level of play as the child’s understanding of the natural world increases. An understanding of how different animals behave, where they live, what they eat, how they live in relation to other animals and the environment can be played out in elaborate imaginary play scenes. Or their understanding of how a rainbow appears, how a volcano erupts, why the sun sets, or why the trees move on a windy day can all be represented creatively in increasing complexity.
EDITED 30/05/12: Here’s some of our non-fiction books. I bought them years ago from a school book-club. They are Scholastic beginner readers.
So why not grab out some of your non-fiction books from the kids’ bookshelves and put them next to some toys/activities or art materials and see what happens?