I was watching the Super Bowl last night with my two sons, aged 7 and 3. It was an interesting experience in watching how kids absorb nonfiction information. Sasha, the 7 year old, could read the screen, and knew enough about the game to need specific definitions and knowledge: "what does third and three mean?" He wanted to know if that meant a team was on the three yard line, or had three yards to go. [the latter] Every play he would ask me (we live in New Jersey, so we were rooting for the Giants), "is that good for us?" In other words he had a general sense of the game, he was being flooded by the details, and he wanted to sort them out so he would fully understand.
My younger son, Raphael, was happy to be hanging out with us and playing, between trips to the kitchen to look for snacks or treats, but also wanted definitions — but in a much broader spectrum, "Is this a commercial? Is this the game?" He needed a basic orientation within the terms he knew, the rest, I am sure, was a blur of color and sound. They both liked Tom Petty.
Well what does this tell us about nonfiction? TV is not reading, and few books are going to have the emotional appeal the game had to Sasha, who has watched his local team (he noticed that they are called the New York Giants even though they play in New Jersey, and was not pleased), and stayed up to see the Giants win in overtime two weeks ago; and for Rafi it was one more day in the family, finding his place amidst the stuff older people are doing. And yet I think there was a lesson: within their own capacities they want information, knowledge, details that make this mystifying adult world understandable, comprehensible.
I feel that we are so eager to make NF fun, or story-like, or on weird, spooky topics — as if we have to work so hard to get kids’ attention. But they hunger for knowledge — they want to know so that they can, well, play. (and by the way, I could have written a version of this same blog about watching the primary debates with the kids around — they want to know, to understand, to participate — to feel that they have a right to be part of the things that matter to their parents, and the nation."