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How to Start Reading Chapter Books with Your Preschooler or Kindergartner
by Janssen Bradshaw
( www.readbrightly.com )
In her pre-child life, Janssen was an elementary school librarian. Now she stays home with her four little girls and is constantly maxing out her library card with picture books, cookbooks, and young adult novels. She’s anxiously counting down the days until her girls are old enough to read the Little House on the Prairie books. You can find Janssen over on her blog, Everyday Reading, where she celebrates modern motherhood with a practical twist.
Unwrapping Her Thoughts
It’s an exciting moment when your child is old enough to start reading chapter books with you.
Of course, reading a chapter book is really different from reading a picture book, and it takes time to develop the skill of listening to a longer book.
In the past year and a half, my almost 5-year-old daughter and I have read several dozen chapter books together, and we’ve gotten better at it as we’ve gone along. Here are a few of our best tips for starting out:
1. Introduce the book before you start. I find it very helpful to give my daughter an overview of the book before we start. Then she knows who the main characters are and what the basic plot is, especially since there aren’t usually a lot of pictures to guide her like there are in a picture book.
2. If the book isn’t working, try something else. There’s no shame in giving up on a book that isn’t capturing your child’s attention. It’s better to make sure you’re having a good experience reading together than to try to power through a book they aren’t enjoying.
3. Let them do something while they listen. Since there aren’t usually very many pictures to look at, a lot of children can get fidgety sitting still. My daughter often likes to color or play with Legos or do stickers while I read aloud to her. When her hands are busy, her attention span is much longer.
4. Don’t be a slave to the chapters. Some books have really long chapters and trying to get through an entire chapter in a single sitting may be too much. Feel free to read half a chapter or a quarter of a chapter a day. Of course, if they want to read a whole chapter or more, go for it!
5. When you start up each day, do a quick review of what happened last time. This helps a small child remember the plot line and the characters’ names when the reading is stretched out over a long period of time.
6. Keep a record of the books you read. At our house, we have a big paper bookworm where we record the books we’ve read together. My daughter loves seeing it grow and remembering the books we’ve finished.
Early chapter books are a great way to help your child transition from shorter books to slightly longer ones with more complicated plots.
Early chapter books usually have three to five chapters that are either related stories or part of a connected storyline. These books are generally meant for preschool and kindergarten age children and are a great midpoint between fully illustrated picture books and longer chapter books.
These are eight of my favorites to read with my two little girls.
by Kevin Henkes
This was one of the first early chapter books we read, and it’s still one of our very favorites. When Penny comes home from school, she’s desperate to sing the song she made up to her parents, but they’re worried she’ll wake up the babies. Will she ever get a chance to be the star?
by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile
Bink and Gollie are a hilarious pair, one very tall and one very short. I think I laughed as much or more at this book than my girls did. Each story is a little bit wacky, with perfect illustrations, and the whole series is great fun.
by Jonathan Fenske
This book about a hippo and a bird has only two chapters, each of which are quite simple and plenty silly. Perfect for a child who has a shorter attention span.
by Erica Silverman, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
Who doesn’t dream of being a cowboy or cowgirl and having a horse of their own? Cocoa is a horse with plenty of spunk and trying to keep her in line isn’t always that easy. But at the end of the day, when the cows come home, Kate and Cocoa are always best friends.
by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Suçie Stevenson
This is the classic early chapter book series. You’ll probably find dozens of them on your library’s shelves and most children love the adventures of Henry and his giant dog.
by Edward Marshall, illustrated by James Marshall
I’ve loved the Fox books since I was a child — it’s so hilariously funny to see Fox, who thinks he is pretty much the star of the show, not be all that bright. I’m so happy these books are still around!
by Lillian Hoban
- Arthur is pretty nervous about his loose tooth, but his little sister is much more stoic about the idea of losing a first tooth. These chimp siblings have some pretty great antics, and they’re especially appealing to younger siblings, as the younger sister frequently gets the better of her older brother.
by Arnold Lobel
I sometimes wonder if there are any better books than the Frog and Toad books. Every story about these two friends is perfect and the illustrations are hard to beat.
Kid's will love the transition.
I hope you found this post helpful. It is certainly a milestone in a child's life to transition from picture books to chapter books with have limited pictures and much harder vocabulary. It's lovely to help them walk through that portal into the world of "big kid's" books. It's sometimes intimidating but oh so rewarding.
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