While fostering a love for any kind of reading is crucial for your child’s learning and development, exploring biographies offers an enriching experience that motivates your child to learn in a new way. Reading biographies not only allows kids to gain valuable new perspectives, but it also encourages their own self-discovery, says Karen Burke, senior vice president of education at Scholastic Education.
“In learning about the life of another, you create comparisons and differences and begin to understand yourself a bit more,” says Burke. “Kids can see ‘famous’ and ordinary people as real people — with their failures, successes, challenges, feelings, and emotions — making extraordinary accomplishments. This can influence how a child reacts to their environment and expand their thinking.”
Getting your younger reader interested in biographies, however, may not be as habitual as encouraging them to read an action-packed fiction book. Here are five tips that will make it a joy for everyone.
1. Make a Solid Introduction
When first exploring biographies with your child, it’s important to start small and steadily build your child’s interest. Marissa Jordening, a fourth-grade teacher in Colorado, recommends starting with picture books.
“Biographical picture books are often rich in word choice and sentence structure, so they may match your child's reading level — even if it looks like a simpler book,” says Jordening.
She suggests starting with a picture book about a notable individual or even a collection with a short biography on several individuals. The Ordinary People Change the World books about Harriet Tubman and Jane Goodall or titles such as Mae Among the Stars could be a great place to start.
2. Let Your Child’s Personal Interests Guide You
Enhance your child’s personal interests by exploring biographies of people your child admires or shares a personal connection with.
“Readers are constantly creating connections while they read, so encourage your child to pick a biography of someone they have something in common with,” Jordening says.
Jordening also notes that a personal connection can encourage deeper examination and discussion. She recommends asking your child questions such as: How is that person similar to you? How are they different? Have you ever felt the way they felt? This will help your child in their own self-discovery.
3. Don't Get Overzealous With Advanced Texts
One recommendation all experts emphasize is choosing biographies suitable for your child’s age level. For Joe Saenz, a fifth-grade teacher from New Jersey, this can make a critical difference for your child.
“We can do a quick Google search and pull up a bunch of information, however, that information can be very lengthy, challenging to understand, and it’s not always reliable,” he says.
Both Saenz and Jordening favor the Who Is / Who Was series for older elementary readers, as it is both age appropriate and provides a fun read. Jordening graduates her students to this series after picture books.
“They are simple yet engaging chapter books that motivate my students and introduce them more fully into the genre of biographies,” she says.
4. Actively Create Excitement for Your Child
While kids usually enjoy fiction books filled with interesting dialogue, some of them will be resistant to explore the stories of real people.
To combat this, Saenz recommends framing the biography as a mystery to be solved. “If the parents show their excitement to learn more about people through their biographies, the kids will also tend to show excitement,” he says.
Burke also suggests creating excitement by having your child write their own autobiography, with inspiration from titles such as Turning Pages. Children love to hear stories about themselves, so helping them to write their own life story at a young age can spark an interest in exploring the stories of others.
5. Encourage More Exploration
Biographies help kids understand history and experiences through another person’s eyes, which may spark more questions from your child. If this is the case, Jordening recommends encouraging your child to dig deeper.
“If they have more questions about the individual, model for them what it looks like to use research strategies online. Biographies often serve as a starting point for learning more about a passion,” she says.
Another way to put your child’s research skills into practice is to have them write a biography about a family member. Burke suggests having your child interview a family member to find out more about their life. Your child can then share their biography as a read-aloud with that family member or the whole family.