When my son was little he tried to lick the dog. He still hides behind the transparent screen door when we play hide-and-seek. Once, he got into my work bag and tried to brush his hair with dry erase markers.
I am not telling you these endearing, yet sort of ditzy, things to embarrass my son. I just want you to know that he is completely, totally, wonderfully average.
During his early years, I called Poison Control three times. Every time they kindly explained that he was fine, and I hadn’t even needed to call.
Once I thought he had a horrible rash and it ended up being dried up refried beans.
I also give my kids way too much sugar, mainly because I have a massive sweet tooth.
Long story short, I’m pretty average, too.
Yet even though he’s average, and I’m average, I was able to successfully introduce chapter books to him before he turned two years old. Seriously.
If I can do it, you can, too!
Don’t be too impressed that I could introduce chapter books…
I’m going to be honest, after my son was born I struggled with so many pieces of being a new mom. I heard other moms say that motherhood was their greatest calling, but I didn’t feel that way – not even a little bit.
So, I did not introduce chapter books in an effort to teach my son to read or because all of the research that shows that reading to young children is good for their brain.
I introduced chapter books because I had the hardest time getting my young son to take his nap every day. Honestly, I didn’t even really care if he took a nap, I just wanted him to stay in his room. I felt like such a failure because I couldn’t even get him to do that.
So, I set a goal. I just wanted to be able to get through a quiet-time without either losing my temper or crying.
I knew that what I was doing wasn’t working, so at the library I grabbed a colorful chapter book.
It turned out that that was the best thing I could’ve done! Having an uninterrupted, joyful time together with a longer book we both enjoyed became our routine. It helped calm him down before nap time, and gave me a moment to enjoy his giggles at the story or funny voices. At a time when I was floundering in knowing how-to-mom, it was something that brought me joy.
Even though reading longer books came from a place of desperation, I am so thankful that we figured out how to make it work! It’s a tradition that we maintain, and we both still look forward to it every day.
You can do it, too!
I started introducing chapter books when my son was quite young, but whatever age your child is now is a great time to begin reading longer books together. These keys will work on any age child. There is no such thing as “too late” to begin reading together!
By keeping in mind a few things, you can successfully make the jump to chapter books.
5 Keys to Reading Chapter Books to Young Children
1. Build reading into your routine.
Think about what your day looks like, and find the place where reading can be added. If you already have a reading time built into the day, adding a few pages of a longer book into that time might work for you.
If there is a part of the day when you have some time in a parked car, like waiting to pick up siblings from school, utilize that time because you have a captive audience!
It might take some trial and error until you find what works for your family.
For example, I tried to read at bedtime, but it did not work for us because we were both too tired. Finally, we settled into the routine of reading our chapter book every day during his quiet time in the afternoon.
There is no perfect time to read, but once you find a time that works on most days try to stick to it. By making it something that you do consistently, your child will begin to expect it and be more willing to pause and sit and read. They might even bring you the book when they know it’s about time to read!
2. Pick the right chapter book for your toddler or preschooler.
It’s good to have options, but if you’ve been to the bookstore recently you know that there might be too many options to read aloud!
There are so many amazing books!
So, what should you look for when choosing a chapter book to read to a toddler or preschooler?
There are three main things you should consider: picture frequency, a memorable main character, and if you enjoy it.
You might be wondering why chapter length or book length are not on that list. Ignore chapter or book length because you can stop reading in the story wherever you want to be done for the day. You will also probably not read a whole chapter in a sitting, even if the chapters are extremely short.
Much more important to consider than chapter length is the frequency of pictures.
Choose a book full of pictures. This eases the transition into more of the story being told in words, with less visual cues than they are used to getting from picture books.
Start with a book that has a picture at least on every page or two. Color pictures are better when you are just starting out.
When choosing a book your child will enjoy, look for one with amazing characters. Young children will not necessarily catch the nuances of the continuing story line or beautiful descriptive prose. However, they will adore the memorable, funny characters!
A book with memorable characters makes your reading time every day just another little peek into what these new character-friends are doing. If your child can remember the character, it doesn’t matter that they aren’t fully remembering the story from day to day.
Books with animals as the main characters are especially unforgettable. Animal characters are great when your children are very young because they may struggle with characters’ names. Your toddler may forget the name of the characters, but they can still say, “DOGGY!” about a dog character they love.
Thankfully, there are a lot of great beginner chapter books with animal characters!
Most importantly, you should only choose a book you enjoy reading. Seriously, it is all about you.
I know this might be counterintuitive, but it does not matter how much your young child likes a book if you hate reading it. You will be reading this book in tiny increments every day. If you do not like the book, you are not going to build it into your daily routine. This is one time when you should be totally selfish and make sure it’s a book you’ll enjoy reading.
3. Start small.
Do you know how much of the first chapter book I would read to my toddler at a time when I started to introduce chapter books? A page. And normally it was a page with a picture. So, really, it was only half a page of words.
That was it. All we would do every day is read about three sentences together right before he took his nap. But with the right book, that’s all it takes!
In the beginning, read only as much as is enjoyable for you and your child. You and your child may get snuggled in all comfy together and look at the book cover for a bit and each say the main character’s name a few times, and then you have been sitting for so long you only get to read a paragraph before it is time to be done. That is wonderful!
Do not fret at how slowly you are moving through a book. That is what the library renewal policy was invented for!
Related: Want a chapter book you can read in one sitting? Here is a whole list of short chapter books for any age, and they’re all previewed by a picky mom! (It’s me…I’m the picky mom.)
4. Make reading chapter books together a joyful time.
Build into your kids’ lives pleasant associations with books. To do this, try to make the time you spend together reading enjoyable for both of you.
When you start out introducing chapter books avoid making your kid view reading as a chore. I’ve been there. It starts out great. Then, you find yourself threatening that “EVERYONE IS GOING TO BED RIGHT NOW if you kids don’t stop jumping on the couch and settle down to read this wonderful book that your long-suffering mother requested from the library!”
It is so difficult to have patience sometimes, but there are some things you can do when you introduce chapter books.
- Do not be surprised if your kids do not jump on board right away with the new reading plan.
- Use a pleasant tone when you tell them that it is time to read together.
- Follow their lead if they need more time to look at the cover or thumb through the pages before you jump into reading.
- Use funny voices and laugh uproariously at anything even remotely funny in the story.
- Snuggle up if that is your thing, or face each other if that is more your speed.
- Make some hot chocolate or pop some popcorn.
However, if it is just not working, and one or both of you are ending up in tears every single day when you try to read some of your book together, just stop.
Seriously, this is one of those times when it is ok to give up. You do not want this to be a chore, you want your kid to love reading.
5. Don’t give up!
I know I just said it is ok to give up if it is not working out for you. Just don’t give up for good. Take a break, and try again to introduce chapter books in a day or week or month.
Try a different book, or a different time of day, or a different part of the house.
Do not be discouraged if it takes several starts and stops before it is part of the day you both look forward to. Just keep making time for positive interactions centered around chapter books.
Also, know that even though I prioritize reading in our home, I know there are seasons when it just won’t happen. I’m ok with that. You should be, too. We are just being the best mommas we can be, and sometimes we throw a chapter book into that mix.
You got this. You can introduce chapter books.
Reading aloud chapter books to your young child can take a little preparation, but the benefits are so worth it! By paying attention to these keys, you can introduce chapter books to your toddler.
If this average mama can do it, so can you!