/**/ The Purposeful Wife: How to Transition from Picture Books to Chapter Books

Monday, February 6, 2017

How to Transition from Picture Books to Chapter Books

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The other day I shared how we keep track of the chapter books I read to the kids. Sarah asked how I got started reading chapter books to my little ones, what I did, how I managed "ants in pants," etc. So here's my best answer to that question :)!

As a book lover, one of the hardest things ever was waiting for my oldest daughter to get to the age when she could start appreciating chapter books. Some of my own favorite childhood memories include listening to my mom read The Chronicles of Narnia and The Little House books to me.

The thing about starting chapter books is that we can easily make the mistake of pushing them on our little ones too early. If we really want to create a positive, bonding, read-aloud experience {of course we do!}, then we need to make sure they are ready for it.

From my own experience, this is the advice I'd give to a mom wanting to start chapter books with her preschoolers.

1. Start with longer picture books first. Before you ever get to chapter books, there are tons of great shorter "chapter books," which are really just collections of stories. Try these lengthier texts and see how your little one does.

Some of our favorite series are Oliver and Amanda Pig, Frog and Toad, Frances, George and Martha, Amelia Bedelia, the original Thomas and Friends, Little Bear and Penny. Of course not every kid is going to connect with every book, so try a handful of titles before making any judgment calls. A kid might be able to sit through and enjoy these, but still not be ready for chapter books... but if they definitely can't sit through longer picture books, its a good indicator they aren't ready for chapters.

2. Evaluate their attention span. How long does your child happily listen to you read? At 3 years old my daughter could easily sit for an hour {she was ready for chapter books}, but that is more of an exception I think. Her brother is 3 now, and he can sit for maybe 20 minutes, depending on his mood and energy level. He listens to us read chapter books {he would feel very left out if we did it without him}, but there are periodic interruptions, talking over me reading, etc. He mostly wants to do it because his sister does.

3. Sharpen Auditory Skills. How much practice does your child have in listening? We've made a point in our home of playing audiobooks in the car, during meals, at daily quiet times, and when the kids are playing. One of the reasons they have such an appetite for words is because I'm intentionally putting it in front of them every single day. The more they listen, the more they will grow in their ability to listen to and concentrate on longer texts.

You can find many free ones to listen to online {seriously, type a children's story book title into YouTube- you can find everything! just keep the screen away so they listen but don't watch}, or check them out from the library.

4. Book selection is everything. Many excellent chapter books just aren't the best starting place for early listeners {The Little House books come to mind}. Other times a book may be a great fit for someone else, but falls flat for you and your kiddo.

S and I loved Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle when we read it a year and a half ago, but my friend Jenni and her daughter {same age, many of the same interests} couldn't get into it. Sometimes a book blogger gives a glowing review of a read aloud, and S and I end up quitting it because it doesn't suit us. If a book isn't working, put it down and try a different one. It might not be that your child isn't ready- it might just be the wrong book!

5. Keep hands busy. Read chapter books at snack time, or while your child colors, digs in a sandbox, or plays with Lego. It's hard for younger kids to sit and focus for long periods of time, and I firmly believe that keeping their hands busy actually helps them to focus on what you are saying.

6. Keep your reading time short. Charlotte Mason was big on stopping lessons or stories after only 15 minutes, sometimes cutting off at the most exciting part. If you keep them engaged and don't give them time to get bored, kids will just eat up learning and reading times.

If I notice that I've lost attention, I'll just stop reading mid-chapter. Try two or three pages at a time, and slowly work your kids up to more. It's like building muscle memory- slow and steady, day in and day out. You can make real progress this way!

7. Don't be afraid to stop and try again later. If you've tried a couple of different books, and the interest just isn't there in your listener, put away the chapter books and wait a month or two. Keep reading picture books together every day. You'll get there eventually!

Also, at 3, somedays S sat still and patient and listened beautifully. And somedays she really wasn't feeling it. We read our chapter book on the good days and stuck with picture books on the squirmier days.

8. Never quit reading picture books. What's not to love about them?! My oldest still could {and does} sit for hours looking at and listening to picture books each day. Chapter books and picture books can serve different purposes, and I feel like we still need a varied diet of both.

The beautiful illustrations, sophisticated language {thanks to Sarah of Read Aloud Revival for this phrase}, and lessons that can be learned most easily through story all contribute to the inestimable worth of a picture book. Plus this guarantees that I'm reading something right at the level of all of my kids {5, 3, and 1} each day.

Basically, you can boil all of this down to: test the waters slowly. If it doesn't stick, try something else. And if that doesn't stick, wait a little bit before trying again. Once it starts sticking, go slow and be patient. Just like everything else in motherhood!

Before you know it, you will be several years into reading chapter books together, and wondering where those younger years went. I already feel this way and my oldest is only 5!

Here are some more helpful articles as you embark into chapter books- basically none of my information is new ;):

My Favorite First Novels to Read-Aloud with Kids @ Read Aloud Revival
First Read-Aloud Chapter Books @ This Pilgrim Life
Tips for Reading Aloud Chapter Books @ Everyday Reading

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