How To Begin Read Alouds With Your Young Learner

How to Begin Read Alouds With Your Young Learner-The Unlikely Homeschool

As a closet librarian, I want all of my children to devour the written word through the pages of a good book. Although I understand that part of that passion has to come naturally...a child has to develop a personal desire to read...I also believe that a reading passion can be ignited and cultivated by simply enjoying great read-alouds together. (I realize that by definition a READ ALOUD is any book that is read out loud, including picture books. But for the purpose of this discussion, I will be referring to chapter books.)

While this sounds like an easy undertaking, introducing a chapter-style read-aloud to a young child can sometimes feel like a daunting task. For some children, moving from picture books to chapter books is a natural evolution. But for others, sitting for an extended period of time to listen to a book with no pictures can seem next to impossible.

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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 different

While 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 books

While the storylines 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
Little Bear

Watch the movie first

Huh?! 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 storyline 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 Charlotte'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 get the idea!

Provide Hand-Work to keep little hands busy

Sometimes 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 story

At 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...

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!


  1. Some early chapter books have chapters which stand alone. We have found these a useful step towards longer books and mean that the whole book isn't lost if concentration is poor on one reading. The Milly Molly Mandy stories are a particularly useful series in this respect but there are plenty of others.

    1. Fantastic suggestion! I completely agree. "Treasuries" can be helpful too. Our favorites have been the Curious George Treasury and the James Herriot Treasury.

  2. Great post! I just started chapter books with my 5.5-yo and almost-4-yo...The Boxcar Children, book 1. I read a lot of it while the boys played with Legos, but it was AMAZING to see how much they retained when they started playing "Boxcar Children" when they were playing outside! I was so excited!

    We started the second in the series, which has been much less of a hit (do you agree--it's not as "authentic" now that they're rich?? lol). I think I'm going to switch over and start Little House in the Big Woods. I'm a little worried that it's about a girl (you know, girls are "lame"), but what little boy wouldn't be fascinated with a balloon made out of a pig's bladder or young Pa getting in major trouble for sledding on Sunday? :)

    1. I'm not a huge fan of the other Boxcar Children books. They kind of loose their luster after that first GREAT one. But, I've always enjoyed the Little House series. I started by reading the picture book version since they are made from excerpts from the original books. My kids and I read and re-read these simple picture books so many times that by the time I read the first Little House book, they could practically quote certain sections.

    2. Ummm..."lose"...not "loose". Sheesh!

    3. What is the picture book version? Are you talking about books like, Winter Days in the Big Woods?

    4. Yep! They are excerpts from the original books set to Garth Williams illustrations. We love them!

  3. The Wheel on the School. The Year of Miss Agnes, Homer Price. All sonlight titles which we can't part with now.

  4. Read while they are eating snacks/lunch. Keeps hands, bodies and mouths occupied. I started with stand alone chapter books as well as short story collections. Also simple audio books like the Martin and Sylvia series which is about a homeschooled family. These are great to put on when the paint sets come out etc

    1. Great tips! We almost always have our science and history reading time during keep little hands busy. Glad to know I'm not the only one.

  5. This is exactly the information I was looking for when I asked on your other post. Thanks, Jamie. I'm not sure how I hadn't seen this post before, as I thought I'd read them all. Really enjoy your blog! Happy Easter!