Our oldest son started kindergarten this year. He's not reading independently. He's learning to decode and syllabicate. We practice some high-frequency words that his teacher sends home, but we do not drill. We don't read flashcards or force him to read the words he knows on the pages of the books we read together. Instead, we are focused on fostering his love for reading, and we've had so much fun moving into the territory beyond picture books — chapter books.
Most teachers don't start talking about chapter books until kids are in first or second grade, usually when children begin reading independently. I'm going to make a plug for starting this journey with your child earlier because it's easy, joyful, and SO beneficial. Here are some ideas for introducing your young child, as early as 2.5, to chapter books.
1. Listen to audiobooks
We started listening to audiobooks when our oldest son was 3, but there is certainly no harm in trying earlier. Ours began on car rides and during "relaxation" time. Some of our early favorites were Frog and Toad, and we later moved into the Magic Treehouse series. Frog and Toad is a shorter compilation of stories, but it includes the same characters, giving children the chance to understand the character's traits and even make predictions based on the character's previous behaviors. Magic Treehouse stories are longer and follow Jack and Annie through some time travel adventures (historical fiction for the win) — 4 was the right age for us to start that series; it was when our son was interested and wanted to keep listening.
2. Keep expectations high, but be flexible
A child's listening comprehension is often much higher than we think. You might be reading this and think that there's no way your kid could sit through a book with fewer pictures. Just try it. Expect that your kid will understand and even enjoy the story, but don't force it. If he or she isn't into it, try another time (or offer to listen to an audiobook!)
3. Find books with topics your kid loves
We are all about animals and adventures in this house, so we've looked for books that align with our son's interests. The picture of the polar bear on the cover of our first read-aloud chapter book was what hooked our son. Put some books on hold at the library, select one, and sit down with your child. Introduce the idea of reading a fun book together —hype it up! Look at the cover, ask him or her what it's about, and offer to start reading it together.
4. Make time and make it special
Cozy up, embrace your inner actor, make a special bookmark together. The more you get into the chapter book and the time you spend reading with your child, the more receptive and excited he or she will be.
5. Talk about it
Stop and chat about what you are reading when it feels right. It's important to keep the momentum going, but you do need to stop and ask questions and talk about what you are reading with your child. Laugh at silly things characters do, ask your child to predict — "What? I can't believe Mr. Shark said that! What do you think is going to happen now?"
Reach out and let us know which audiobooks and chapter books your kiddos are into! Let's read and grOH!