DaddyRead: a short guide on reading aloud chapter books to preschoolers

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Reading Aloud Chapter Books for 3,4,5, and 6 year-olds

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A Short Guide on Reading Aloud Chapter Books to Preschoolers

Reading Aloud Chapter Books to 3,4,5 and 6 Year Olds

Why Read Aloud Chapter books to Preschoolers

The traditional time kids start chapter books is when they learn how to read them by themselves. The trouble with this is that it goes against that fact that a child's listening level is higher than the reading level until the teenage years. Consider Mary Pope Osborne's popular Magic Tree House Series. These books are traditionally rated on the third grade reading level. Third grade children love these books, but their listening level, at this age, is roughly at the sixth grade reading level. In other words, they could be listening to more complex, vocabulary rich books than what they are capable of reading. In fact, if you look in the inside cover of the Magic Tree House books, you will read letters from kindergarten classes: five year old kindergartners love listening to books designed for third graders. A good rule of thumb is that the listening level is three years ahead of the reading level. So a four year old can listen comfortably to second grade reading level books. By the age of four and a half, many children could listen to third grade level books.

Why rush into chapter books? Eventually almost all kids learn to read. More specifically, they learn to decode, translate written symbols to sounds (this is what most people mean by reading). Not all children learn to understand what they read well enough. When you say someone is a good reader, you say they have good comprehension, they can make connections and intuitions. For our purposes, let's call this higher reading so we don't confuse it with decoding. If you think about it, one does not need to read to perform higher reading; listening is enough. So the advantage of early chapter books is that you can start building higher reading skills years before they start decoding. By the time they start reading, they will already hooked on reading and will quickly master decoding.

Parents will enjoy a good chapter book. Picture books are great, but most adults don't read them outside of parenthood. Not so with chapter books, we read them ourselves, though on a higher level. You'll enjoy reading kids chapter books almost as much as your child will love hearing them. The more you, the parent, enjoy reading, the more your child will generally be read to.

Age 3-5 is a golden age to pick up vocabulary and sentence structure. At this age, a child's mind is like a sponge, ready to soak up new words and ideas. Sometimes when reading to a child, I come across an unfamiliar word (usually from British literature), like macintosh. I am continually amazed that four year old children sometimes figure out the word's meaning, from context, before I do (a macintosh is a British word for raincoat).

Don't underestimate the power of vocabulary. It is probably the best measure of intelligence. Each word represents an idea, and coming up with ideas are what makes people creative. A child with a huge vocabulary will be a phenomenal reader when they mature.

Chapter books typically deal with complicated real life issues. Some books are about school bullies and how the protagonist deals with the conflict. Others give sharp lessons about integrity. Still others teach kids how to live morally, treating others with respect.

Chapter books can teach a child empathy. In television, one rarely has access to the thoughts and innermost feelings of a character. Picture books are usually not detailed enough to do this either. But starting with simple chapter books, we can gain access to the feelings of characters. When a child hears a story from a character's point of view, they begin to realize that other people have feelings, ideals, and goals. If you think about it, how do kids learn empathy otherwise? A parent can tell a child about the other people's feelings, but a book can show it explicitly. In fact, reading is all about empathy: when you read fiction, you make believe you are standing in a character's shoes. If you don't empathise with a character, you won't care what happens to him or her, and you won't enjoy the book.

Chapter books help strenghten a child's attention span. It is unfortunate, but today's children and teenagers have so many electronic attractions, that they compete with rigorous academic study. When today's children do homework, they have cell phones, iPods, The Web, instant message, text message, video games, blogs,.... The list goes on and on. Combine that with TV (which I believe shortens the attention span), give a child the distractions above, and you have a recipe for academic disaster. Chapter books, started at a young age, can help build long attention spans. A typical read-aloud story, for a young listener, can last anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours. You may be amazed, but I know four year olds who can listen to 100 page stories at one sitting (equally amazing is the effort required by the parent to accomplish this feat).

One final, and I think most important, reason to start chapter books early, is to hook the child on reading. Picture books have a hard time competing with television. Most picture book stories are just not compelling enough to capture a child's imagination. Start reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to a child who can understand it, and the child will get sucked into the story. By hooking a child on listening, early, you'll grow a future great reader.

How Does One Start Reading Chapter Books to a 3 and 4 Year Old

In the previous section I explained why it's worthwhile to start chapter books early. I never said it was easy. In fact, you have to start really slowly.

The first step is to read many, many picture books. At age 1.5 to 2, read many simple books, with only a few words per page. Between age 2-3 read books, in increasing length until the child will sit for 20-80 words per picture. By age 3.5 try to read long picture books like The Shivers in the Fridge and other books in the preschool picture book section of DaddyRead.com. When your child can handle these books, it is safe to start chapter books. However, please remember: ALWAYS CONTINUE TO READ PICTURE BOOKS. Picture books are filled with great poems, and wonderful, imaginative pictures. Don't go to the extreme of only reading chapter books, blend them in and, eventually, try to spend half your time on chapter books. Start with low level chapter books like Magic Tree House. Particularly the first four books (see the link on DaddyRead.com, under preschool chapter books). I usually give these books as a birthday present to 4 and 5 year olds. Magic Tree House is written with simple vocabulary, and simple sentences. The books are part of a series: so continue reading them aloud until you get bored (there are over 30 books so far).

After Magic Tree House try the Moongobble series. They are a lot more interesting, funny, and only a little bit more complicated than Magic Tree House. If you get through these books, work your way down the preschool chapter book list on Daddyread.com.

A word of caution: don't force your child into chapter books if he is not ready. If you have trouble getting your child to sit through the first book of Magic Tree House, go back to picture books and try again next month. There is no rush. If you can transition in chapter books before 1st grade, you should be very proud.

How to Read Aloud Chapter Books: Making Your Reading Exciting

How would you like to watch a movie where the actors speak in monotone, too fast, without any pauses between sentences. Commas and periods where invented for a reason: they heavily influence the meaning of our sentences. In the following paragraphs, I go over some techniques that will help engross your child in chapter books.

The most serious mistake is to read a chapter book too fast. Listen to some famous professional actors read books (www.storylineonline.net). Read a little slower than people usually talk. There is no rush. You must put emotion into the words, and if you read too fast, it is impossible.

Treat each period, comma, semicolon, question mark, italic type, and exclamation point as if your life depended on it. Pause longer at a period then a semicolon, longer at a semicolon than a comma. When you get to italic type, make believe someone punched you in the stomach. In other words, get excited. Make believe you are a professional storyteller.

Read with emotion and inflection. When someone says something in quotes, try to use the correct tone. When a character's grandmother just go run over by a reindeer, try to read a little sadly. Listen to professional audiobook readers and actors to learn this skill.

One of the easiest ways to make your reading more exciting is to change the volume of your voice. When you want to build suspense, say in a scary scene, start with a really quiet reading, and when the monster jumps out, yell. Your reading will come to life.

Probably the hardest, but most worthwhile is to learn to to use different voices. Listen to Jim Dale read Harry Potter (Harry Potter Audio CDs). Dale is probably the best audiobook reader in the world. Try to use different voices for different characters. Sometimes books don't say who speaks after every quote, and the listener could get confused. Giving characters different voices helps the child enjoy and comprehend the story. It does take practice though, but even badly performed voices are better than a single voice.

Make the reading interactive. When you come across a difficult word, try to make the child guess its meaning from context. See if the child can anticipate an action or response on the characters part. If he can do this, he is well on his way to becoming a great reader. When you come across a nice lesson, a neat idea, or something that reminds you of your own experiences, engage the child in a little discussion.

Becoming an exciting reader takes time and practice. Listen to as many children's audiobooks as you can, and before long, you'll be reading like the pros.

Have Patience

The most important thing is to not pressure your child into chapter books before he is ready. If your child is not interested in chapter books but will sit for hours of picture books, count your blessings and be happy. Try chapter books again next month.

Reading aloud is a great way to spend quality time with your children. Even if there were no academic incentives to read, the bonding that results from years of read-alouds is well worth the effort. Keep reading aloud as long as your child will let you. Don't stop when he turns six. Remember, the reading level does not usually catch up to the listening level until the teenage years. I would say an ultimate goal is to read aloud all seven Harry Potter books. It will take you a year, but your child should remember the experience their entire life.