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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

6 Tips for Reading Chapter Books to Young Kids

"A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest."      ~ C.S. Lewis

Being the book-lover I am, I couldn't wait to start reading books I remembered and loved from my own childhood to my kids. You can imagine my disappointment when at 18months old, my firstborn wouldn't even sit in my lap to look at touch-and-feel books or let me show him the wonder of a lift-the-flip book. An inauspicious start to say the least.

When the same kid was three years old (and now regularly sat still for a picture book before bed) I decided it was time to move on to the classics. Bless my heart. I have no idea when it's the right time for my oldest kiddo to do anything so my default mode is typically yesterday.

Three was way too early for Elijah to sit through, let alone understand most of the content I was trying to read to him. I let it go for a while but we picked it back up again sometime between the age of 4 and 5. By this time I also had a 3 year old and an 18 month old, and although they didn't sit still and listen attentively, they toddled around us and picked up on the fact that books were exciting and this extended reading time was special.

We're now in a solid routine reading from chapter books daily to my 7, 5 and 4 year old. We typically save chapter books for just before bed so that my 20 month old is already asleep, but every now and then we'll read at lunch time or after dinner so he can catch our love of literature. I think it's working because just the other night when BJ was reading, he reached for the book and said, "I ona see" (I want to see).

Here are six things that have have worked for us as we have tried to make reading aloud a daily part of our routine:

1. Find transitional chapter books that keep their interest with occasional pictures.
I found this edition of Pippi Longstocking at the library to get us started, every other page has an illustration, so it's a great transition from picture books and only tests their sweet patience the littlest bit. The links in this post all lead to editions with great illustrations, so if that's important to you, make sure you read the reviews/look through the book for pictures before purchasing.

2. Pick a book that YOU like and are excited about.
Duh. How are the kids supposed to get excited if you're yawning and falling asleep through the story? If you love the classics, start with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  If history is more your thing, why not start with Little House in the Big Woods from the Little House on the Prairie series. For those of you who want read-aloud time to be full of laughs, Roald Dahl does the trick for us every time. The BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were enjoyed by my kids at early ages.

3. Give little ones a silent activity to keep their hands busy and their minds focused.
When Elijah was younger I'd read to him while he played with Play-Dough or Legos. Now my oldest ones sit still and listen without needing something to do, but puzzles or coloring are great activities as well. Anything that is quiet and that doesn't require your intervention.

4. Remember that kids can listen and understand books at a higher level than they can read.
Don't be afraid to read a book with a subject matter they haven't learned about or with words they aren't familiar with. Listening to a story is one of the best ways to pick up vocabulary and learn a subject in an engaging way. My daughter can still tell you exactly how maple syrup is made from the very first book in the Little House series, which we read when she was three!

5. Get recommendations when you don't know what to read next!
Pinterest and blogs are a fabulous source of great recommendations. One of my favorite blogs, always ripe with selections for kids (especially picture books) is Everyday Reading. The blog What Do We Do All Day has a slew of posts dedicated to book selections for kids - suggestions for pre-schoolers, kids with special needs, reluctant readers, etc. I love this post on How to Choose Early Chapter Books for Kids - (hint the age of the protagonist is a good clue as to what age the book was written for.) I also picked up The Read-Aloud Handbook last year, which is an amazing resource, not only for specific book recommendations according to the ages of your children, but the entire first half of the book lays out the incredible importance of reading aloud to your kid and makes a very strong case for why you should do it early and often.

6. Don't leave picture books behind just because you start reading chapter books!
Picture books ignite the imagination and the rhyming verse of many picture books is essential to kids picking up the letter sounds and phonics skills they need when they begin independently reading. It is encouraging for early independent readers, when all they can read are the easy picture books, that you still read picture books to them as well. For us it helps take away the idea of "baby" books and "big kid" books.

And finally - my one and only rule when it comes to reading to your kids - if at first you don't succeed, try, try, again! One day they'll start listening and then the adventure will begin!

Any thoughts or tips you have to share with me? I'm all ears all the time when books are the subject matter.


  1. Great post! How long are your read aloud sessions? Do you stick with a time schedule, or do you end when a chapter is finished?

    1. Hi Katie! :) We usually read a chapter at a time. If everyone is having a good time (me included) we'll go longer. It really just depends on the day and time we're reading!


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