While there is no perfect formula for "HOW" and "WHEN", here's a few simple tricks that have worked for me.
Remember that every child's attention span is differentWhile my daughter enjoyed her first read aloud at 2 1/2, my sons have each been a bit older. Some children might be ready at two while others may not show interest until five or beyond.
Transition with Early Reader-style chapter booksWhile the story lines are not always very riveting, early reader-style chapter books can be a simple way to help your child develop a sense of "continuation"...a realization that the story does not end but will continue on tomorrow, that the plot has several pieces, and that each little "story" is connected to the next. While you do not need to limit your daily reading to just one chapter, I'd recommend NOT completing the book in one sitting. You are trying to establish the habit of longevity.
Here are a few that I have read and adored with my preschoolers over the years. (These are all books of a series. So, if your child enjoys one of them, you can read many more together.)
Henry and Mudge
Frog and Toad
Mr. Putter and Tabby
Watch the movie firstHuh?! Why would you ever watch the movie first? It's true, in ALL OTHER circumstances, I would not recommend watching the movie first. The movie is almost always a pitiful version of the original. But, by introducing the characters and basic plot settings of a long narrative in movie form, you are providing a "cheat sheet" for your little learner. He/she will be less likely to get lost in the details of a more complicated story with a simple frame of reference to fall back on. He/she will know the basic story line and will have to do less mental work to follow along and thereby ENJOY the story more. Be sure to choose a movie that is a close replica of the book. Many original classics that have been recreated by modern day movies are often barely recognizable. A bad rendition of a great book will only confuse a child. I'd recommend beginning with the 1973 animation of Chalotte's Web. The movie is, at times, a WORD PERFECT match to the book. And the book is...well, T--double E--double R--double I...you get the idea!
Provide Hand-Work to keep little hands busySometimes a child is mentally mature enough to follow along during a lengthy story, but is not physically mature enough. By encouraging your child to complete a few simple hand-work crafts during read aloud time, you are providing a PRODUCTIVE and less-disruptive outlet for their pent-up energy.
Begin with a simple but captivating storyAt the risk of sounding cliche', you only have ONE chance to make a good impression. Story selection can MAKE or BREAK read aloud time...especially the FIRST EVER read aloud time. That being said, finding a story that is both SIMPLE and CAPTIVATING can be tricky. Here are a few that I'd recommend.
My Father's Dragon (the first in a series of three)
The Boxcar Children (Book 1)
The Bears on Hemlock Mountain
Ribsy (The chapters tend to be long, but the story is very exciting.)
For more information on read alouds or for other great titles, be sure to check out...
Great Read Alouds for Lower to Mid Elementary
13 Books to Read Aloud in 2013
Summer Read Aloud Goals
Hidden Benefits of Reading Aloud to Your Kids
Have any great titles for young learners worth sharing?
Please leave a comment with any FIRST chapter books your family has enjoyed. Let's help each other!