The leap from reading first words to early chapter books is monumental. All of a sudden there are lines of words on a page with only one or two full stops. Our young readers will have as many different reactions to this new format as there are personality types.
The bold adventurer will dive in without hesitation, not caring whether the going is easy or tough: they will plough on regardless. The hesitant learner might be brought to tears at the thought of decoding all those words or be tempted to give up after an exhausting page or two. The perfectionist doesn’t like to make mistakes, ever, so they are in danger of refusing point-blank before they have even begun.
This is a critical moment.
If handled well, the first foray into reading stories will cement a life-long love of reading. However, negative experiences can scar the pathway and make young readers more hesitant than ever.
The following are a few effective strategies that can help smooth the way for burgeoning readers. (This tiny list is by no means complete.)
Make it achievable: Always make sure the book’s content is well within your child’s ability. School home readers are generally pitched two or three levels below what is being taught at school. (Every child works at their own instructional level). Relatively easy reading at home makes for confidence, enjoyment and the experience of reading fluently.
Your turn, my turn: There’s absolutely no harm in hearing a story before you attempt to read it yourself. Taking turns to read the same page is one way of increasing confidence. Your children will know when they are ready for bigger challenges (as in two pages or a whole small book per turn).
Having a good guess: Every word does not have to be perfect at this stage. Having a good guess is always a great achievement and worthy of praise. Good guesses are made based on the pictures, first and last sounds in a word and the knowledge already gathered so far in the story.
Taking the leap into early chapter books can be exciting and satisfying if the right supports are provided. It is totally okay if words here and there are tricky. We all have words we don’t know. It’s what we do when tricky bits arise that makes us into reading detectives.
This wonderful phase in which your child moves from faltering uncertainty to becoming an independent reader is one where your presence and praise at the end of each sentence is critical, and your gentle reminders about useful strategies is indispensable.