28 Mar 2023
by Carolyn Knight
How to Embed Non-fiction in Your Early Years (EYFS) Setting
Nurturing a love of non-fiction, and realising its potential for learning all about the world and its people, begins when children are very young. Sadly, not all children will benefit from exposure to non-fiction books (or, indeed, any books) at home. However, EYFS educators can ensure that all children have access to interesting information and fascinating facts.
Why Are Non-fiction Books So Important for Young Readers?
Kids love non-fiction!
It is a common misconception that all young children prefer stories: make-believe, fairy tales, riddles and rhymes, humorous characters and so on. Fiction certainly has its place in many hearts – young and old – but a large number of children really enjoy non-fiction.
In November 2022, The National Literacy Trust investigated the effect of reading non-fiction and what young non-fiction readers care about. More than half of children and young people surveyed said they read non-fiction.
Non-fiction doesn’t have to mean text-heavy, dry and serious. Non-fiction books for young children today are entertaining, exciting and visually appealing. In fact, the layout of the text or the use of photography, for example, can be exactly what draws many young readers to these books.
Non-fiction develops children’s thinking skills
Young children are rapidly absorbing and processing information about the world around them. They are curious; they ask questions and make connections. By gaining knowledge and understanding through non-fiction books, they are also developing research skills, which are essential in adult life.
Non-fiction aids language and vocabulary
Vocabulary development is so important in the formative years. Non-fiction books can significantly support young children’s language development.
Non-fiction expands children’s horizons
A young child’s first-hand experiences are limited. Non-fiction books can build on their personal experiences and expand their knowledge. They can then begin to form views and opinions based on that knowledge.
Non-fiction fuels children’s specific interests
Young children are receptive to forming new interests or furthering interests they already have. It could be a particular animal that a child is fascinated by or a type of vehicle they always seem keen to learn more about. Non-fiction texts are perfect for fuelling those interests.
How Does Non-fiction Support the EYFS Statutory Framework?
The EYFS statutory framework refers to non-fiction books and their role in enhancing language development and children's knowledge of the world around them.
Non-fiction books can be used to support all seven areas of learning:
- communication and language
- physical development
- personal, social and emotional development
- understanding the world
- expressive arts and design
If you have areas of the classroom set up to align with some or all of these areas of learning, such as a writing area, a numbers area, an art area, etc., you could place relevant non-fiction books in those areas for children to access.
How to Select the Best Non-Fiction for Your EYFS Setting
Consider the interests of your pupils
If you’re looking to purchase new (or second-hand) books for your early years’ classroom, you’ll ideally have certain interests in mind. Through initial meetings with your pupils and their families – possibly even before they start at the school – you’ll have gained information about their likes and interests, any hobbies they have or perhaps information about jobs that members of their family have.
Offer a range of subjects and formats
Starting with your pupils’ existing interests makes sense but don’t feel limited by this. Providing non-fiction texts on a vast range of diverse topics lets them explore different subjects, which in turn allows them to develop new interests and broaden their knowledge.
Look at different formats of non-fiction texts, too, such as encyclopedias, biographies, recounts, reports, compare and contrast texts, and ‘active non-fiction’ (instructional, how-to books such as crafting techniques, coding or science experiments).
Keep abreast of the latest children’s non-fiction titles
You can find all the latest non-fiction books published by DK, a trusted publisher in the children's non-fiction market, on DK Learning. The books can be filtered by age group, subject, topic and subtopic and can be purchased via the retailers on the site.
Ensure your non-fiction is relevant, representative and inclusive
There’s a lot to consider here.
Can you choose non-fiction books that are relevant to the pupils you teach? That means considering their interests but also their backgrounds, their family set-ups, their faiths and cultures.
Are the non-fiction books you use in the class representative of the pupils you teach, in their content and images?
Have you considered ways to make non-fiction accessible to all pupils? For example, if you have audiobooks available, are some of them non-fiction?
How to Embed Non-Fiction in Your EYFS Setting
Whether your class topic is ‘All About Me’ or ‘Under the Sea’, you’ll easily be able to weave some non-fiction texts seamlessly into your topic. They are a wonderful way to start a lesson, great to read at the end of the school day, or perfect for placing in the reading corner for children to look at independently.
When working on your long-term and medium-term plans, make notes of non-fiction texts you’d like to use to support that topic.
You could even plan a topic around a particular non-fiction title, taking inspiration from the information it provides and creating activities and learning opportunities from specific topics, headings, questions or facts found inside the text.
There are so many opportunities to use instructional texts in the early years setting, whether through teacher-led or independent learning activities. Instructions for construction projects, recipes, instructions to play a game on the computer or a board game, instructions linked to hygiene and handwashing, instructions for making something in arts and crafts... the possibilities are endless.
Modelling how to read and follow instructions will provide young children with essential life skills and develop their technical vocabulary when linked to certain tasks, such as a science experiment.
Using the library
If your school has a library, try to take the class or small groups to visit it regularly. Perhaps once a week, an adult in school could open the library at lunchtime for EYFS children. Older pupils could be encouraged to ‘buddy up’ with the younger children to share non-fiction books and read to them.
If you don’t have a school library, consider a class trip to a library. Your local library might be able to organise some activities linked to certain non-fiction books, to support the topic you are learning about with your class.
Non-fiction classroom displays
Engaging, interactive displays bring a topic to life in the classroom. Take inspiration from non-fiction texts and add questions, facts and images that will draw young learners into the topic and make them want to find out more. As you work through a topic with your class, you can add work they do, or photos of activities they’ve taken part in, to the ever-evolving display.
You could also display non-fiction posters linked to your topics, such as a poster about the human body, dinosaurs or the life cycle of a butterfly.
Engaging with parents and carers
Supporting families with reading is always important to Early Years educators. Many parents and carers are keen to know how best to support their children with reading at home, and some will require more guidance and support than others. There are several things you can do to boost engagement, which will really benefit pupils in several ways.
- Let parents and carers know (via letters or information on the school website) which topics you’ll be learning about over the school year.
- Supply parents and carers with recommended reading book lists.
- Provide parents and carers with information about the school library and public libraries in the local area.
- Consider loaning out non-fiction books from the classroom to pupils who have expressed a particular interest in a certain topic.
- Run a workshop to model non-fiction book talk to parents and carers, helping them feel more confident to share non-fiction with their children at home and ensuring children get more out of sharing these texts with an adult. Or send home a conversation guide to support parents and carers with a non-fiction book talk.
- Invite parents and carers into the class to share non-fiction texts with children. This could be a regular slot with willing parents and carers on a rota. They could read with one pupil at a time, with a small group, or even read to the class, depending on what they’re comfortable with.
- If you’re covering a topic about which one of your parents/carers has knowledge or interest, they could be invited to speak with the class.
Awareness days and special events
Various awareness days and special events lend themselves to using non-fiction books to learn more about the topic. Examples include:
- Religious festivals and holidays
- Awareness days focused on environmental issues
- Sports events and tournaments
- Charity fundraising days
- Anniversaries of historical events or people
- Significant topical events in the present (such as Coronations or space flights)
In summary, non-fiction works best when embedded in activities that give it a point and purpose. Consider your pupils’ interests, select high-quality, engaging texts, link the books to your topics and model the joy of learning incredible information.
Carolyn Knight is mum to three amazing daughters and an EYFS teacher in Kent. She trained at Nottingham Trent University, specialising in KS1and has been teaching for over 25 years. Carolyn has a deep passion for Early Years Education. She is also a specialist in outdoor learning and is a qualified Forest School leader.