One of the questions that I often get asked is how and when to transition from reading only picture books with your children to reading some chapter books as well. While no one child will transition the same way, I’ll share some tips and tricks here for you, as well as recommend a delightfully sweet chapter book series to share with your children!
Given how much my girls love to listen to audiobooks (which, obviously, have no pictures to go along with the words) and have for years, I figured that reading some chapter books out loud to them instead of only picture books would be an easy transition… But it wasn’t! We actually started and stopped chapter books a few different times, trying a few different books, putting them down and waiting a few months, trying again, and so on, until we were finally successful!
So, what did I learn from that experience? Here are 4 tips for making the transition from picture book read alouds to chapter book read alouds.
Four Tips for Transitioning to Chapter Book Read Alouds
- Be flexible! You can never really know when your children are both ready for and interested in listening to one story strung out over days, weeks, or even months. Some kiddos love these longer stories with fewer illustrations around 4, but some children make it through the early grades still prefering to listen to a picture book. So, when you think that you and your family are ready for a chapter book, give it a try, but be ready to abandon if your children just aren’t interested. Remember that the ultimate goal of reading at home with young children is that they enjoy books and stories!
- Start with stories they know. Our most successful first chapter book read alouds were also stories the girls had listened to on audiobook. They loved Frog and Toad and Mercy Watson, and were able to listen to us read Little House in the Big Woods and Charlotte’s Web after that. Those were all stories they were already familiar with, but were excited to listen to again in a different format.
- Be consistent! It’s really difficult for children to sustain attention (let alone remember the storyline) if you’re only reading small pieces of a longer story once or twice a week. Try to read that story every night for a bit to help the listeners get into it… And if they protest and ask for other books, that’s a good sign that you need to go back to Tip #1, be flexible, and try again in a few months!
- Remember, you can (and should) always keep reading picture books, too! If your children just aren’t digging a chapter book, read picture books for a while instead. And, even when they transition to listening to a longer story, remember there’s a lot of really good stuff in picture books, too! They’re often written at or above the level of chapter books you might read to kindergarteners or first graders, and they can be amazingly gentle ways to introduce more complex social themes. In our house, we often read our chapter book read aloud over breakfast, but before bedtime the girls prefer picture books.
So what chapter book are we reading now? The girls are loving the Heartwood Hotel series! Now, this is one that I tried to read to them a few different times over the last year or two, and they were just not interested. I loved the story, though, and really thought they’d enjoy it, so I returned to it every six months or so, and this last attempt clicked! We flew through the first one (Heartwood Hotel: A True Home), are almost to the end of the second (Heartwood Hotel: The Greatest Gift), and have already checked the third (Heartwood Hotel: Better Together) out from the library so that we can immediately start it when we finish the second. These books are sweet animal stories, full of character that exhibit kindness, empathy, and generosity. Led by Mona, a tiny mouse with a big heart, and Mr. Heartwood, the owner of a hotel built on the theme “We live by protect and respect, not by tooth and claw,” the stories of the staff and guests overcoming obstacles will warm hearts both young and old!
What was the first chapter book you successfully read out loud to your children?
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