Many children today start school without knowing how to read and are disconcerted to find books lacking all the illustrations they were used to with comics and picture books of their preschool years. And many parents wonder why their beginners don't instantly fall in love with chapter books and are not enjoying the same books they loved as a child. What are the problems?
First, it is a bad idea to push children to read chapter books independently if they are not ready. Doing this may turn them off reading altogether, and there are better solutions. Of course, chapter books are important to introduce increasingly more complex storylines, characters, themes, and settings when your child is learning to read and expanding their vocabulary. But take your time!
When texts have no pictures, students must rely on DECODING (recognising sound-letter relationships) to understand the text, a skill they cannot acquire without effort. The transition from picture books, where so much meaning is easily figured out in the illustrations, to chapter books, where readers rely solely on the print to make sense of the text, can be daunting for some kids. Starting practically from scratch, children may still not have developed what researchers call "automaticity" in their decoding skills, that is to say, reading words without having to sound them out.
Here are four useful tips to help your kids develop the skills they need to read and even love chapter books:
1. Choose books suited to the transition
A large selection of books is designed to support young readers, with short chapters enriched with plenty of complementary illustrations.
2. Share the reading and have relevant conversations
For example, you read a sentence, a paragraph, or a page, and then your child does the same. Talk about anything with your child - images, videos, movies, games, art, science, etc. All this will help them build both their vocabulary and knowledge.
3. Respect your child's interest
Let your child read the books they seem interested in. Some kids are not keen on fiction and prefer reading about zoology, geography, history, or many other subjects. Those kinds of texts are even better at developing complex language. It's a good idea to suggest books to your child - but their tastes and preferences come first.
4. Control your own anxiety - relax and be patient
Kids can easily pick up on parental anxiety about academic achievement and many other challenges. Learning to read is a marathon, not a sprint, and a big task for a young person. The most important role of a parent or teacher is to provide children with a lot of time, encouragement, and fun.
Picture: A family reading (ChildUp & DALL-E - 2022)