10 Real Life Tips for Reading Chapter Books – Part 1

I’m doing this two-part series to go along with the Chapter Book Challenge. Come join us!

We all know we’re supposed to be reading volumes of great literature (“Living Books”) to our kids. It increases their vocabularies, improves attention spans, blah blah blah.

So why don’t I read as much as I would like?

Because it’s hard.

My kids fight over where to sit. They interrupt with a million questions. They whine and want to watch TV instead. Last year, my toddler invented an exhilarating game of trying to fling himself backwards off the couch during story time. Not exactly an ideal focusing environment.

When I read by myself, I can knock out a book in a few hours. When I read to my kids, I might as well settle down and get comfortable with the characters because I know we’ll be there a while. Like a month.

But that’s okay. It’s still worth doing.

Here are some real-life tips I’ve found for making reading chapter books less painful (and now, many days, actually enjoyable!) at our house.

(Picture books are wonderful too, but in this post, I’m focusing on chapter books, with only a few pictures and mostly text on a page. )


1. Read when the toddler is asleep or with the other parent. I’ve given up on trying to read chapter books with my 3-year-old in the room. He’s adorable, but a complete distraction. So I try to read to my six- and eight-year-old for 20-30 minutes during Tea Time when he’s napping. I also try read at bedtime for 20 minutes or so while Dad reads to The Great Distractor on the couch in the living room (or vice versa).

(I’ve heard rumors that there are toddlers who behave nicely and can actually be in the same room when you’re reading a chapter book. If this happens at your house, consider yourself in the 1%.  I’m very happy for you and only the tiniest bit jealous. Don’t mind me–carry on!)

2. Expect it to go slowly and be frustrating.

When I expect to get through a whole chapter, I get annoyed at interruptions. But if I resign myself to the fact that we’ll probably only get through a couple pages, I’m much more pleasant. We often only get through 2-4 pages in 20 minutes.

I answer questions as we go.  (If they ask totally unrelated questions, I’ll ask them to wait until we’re done.)

It takes us about a month to get through a chapter book.

That’s a long time, but it also allows the children to really get into the story, to get to know the characters, to dream themselves into that world. Some people might read more, but that’s okay. This is what we can do. I figure it’s better than nothing.

 3. Bribe them with food. My kids like Tea Time (i.e. Reading Time) so much better now that I give them warm milk and a snack. Our standard snacks are apples and peanut butter, Baked Lays, pretzels, or crackers and cheese.

4. Pick a book you actually want to read. I’m much more likely to announce, “Tea Time!” when I care about the book.  If I hate the book and have to drag myself to
read it, it’s just agony for all. And we don’t really need any more of that.


5. Make sure the kids understand what’s going on. I’ll often stop and ask, “Do you know what’s happening?” I let them ask endless questions about plot, character, time period, etc. If they need to do that to get it straight in their minds, I let them.

I’ll finish the other 5 tips in Part 2, and also list some of the chapter books we’ve loved.
Any tips to share for reading Chapter Books? I’d love to hear them!

Want to join in on our Chapter Book Challenge? (I also list out the chapter books I’m hoping to read with them this year.) Let’s help each other out with this! 

8 thoughts on “10 Real Life Tips for Reading Chapter Books – Part 1

  1. I love these tips–thanks! I’m looking forward to the next five as well. My kids are 4 (almost 5), 3, and 2. I definitely CANNOT read chapter books with my wild two year old son around. We read during his naptime just before the older two have “quiet rest time” (they sit in bed quietly for an hour and read or play LEGOs). That works pretty well for us.

    We started reading chapter books when my older two were newly 4 and not quite 3. Yes, my 2 year old daughter did sit, enjoy, and understand chapter books, but I absolutely do know we got lucky there. That would never have worked with either of my boys.

    When I read, I stop frequently to have them summarize what’s happening. My 4 year old is better at this, but my 3 year old usually chimes in with a few details. I also frequently over hear her re-enacting the story later with her dolls or brother, so I know she’s catching most of it.

    • Isn’t that so precious to hear them acting out the books with their dolls or brothers? I love that! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I love this list! (and it’s a little nice to know mine aren’t the only kids who fight over who gets to sit where) Before my littlest one was born, I used to wake up my girls and then sit in the hallway between their bedrooms and read a chapter or more to them while they listened from their beds. It was a nice way to start the morning and make our way through some good books. I need to get back to that soon!

    • Andrea, So glad you liked it! What a wonderful way to start the day with your girls. That’s a good point– my kids do pretty well first thing in the morning, too, if I have them listen while they sip milk and slowly wake up. Thanks for adding that tip!

  3. If your wiggly boy needs to sit on his head on the couch, or he needs to lay with his head hanging off the couch, ignore him & keep reading. It’s okay. Maybe that works better for him.

    If the kids need to color or to play with a quiet toy (lots of fidget toys available, or soft blocks or magnets or clay) that might actually help their brains to listen.

    My kids don’t usually ask as many questions of ME as I ask of THEM – why did he say that? what will happen next? what do you wish would happen?

    When you need a break, get books on cd for them to listen to while they play in their room or before they go to sleep at night or when you’re on a long car-ride. It’s expensive to buy these but the library has a lot to choose from – look for cds & also Playaway media players (a self-contained device, just plug in headphones or earbuds). I’ve purchased many an Adventure in Odyssey set & also many (okay, most) of the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre sets, but we check out the Hank the Cowdog cds & all the Little House stories & books by Beverly Cleary & Rick Riordan & so many others.

    If it works for you to pay a kid 25 cents to rub your feet for half an hour while you read, go for it. If your kids are a little older, you can get a cheap pedicure during book reading time also . Do what works.

    Way too soon the book reading time is over – though my 14yo & 11yo still sit & listen to me nearly every day & some days I even notice the 20yo or 18yo or 16yo coming into the room & sitting down to do something else — unrelated, of course — nearby, while I read to the younger ones…

    • Liz, I think you told me several years ago that you read more books to your boys when they were upside down than right side up! I love the foot rub idea. I’m going to have to add some tips to the end of this series to incorporate all the great ideas! (Also, thanks for specific titles/authors on audio books. Always need good ones for car drives.) You rock.

  4. My motto is “let them play.” I have found that my oldest son (7) can’t really listen well if he is made to sit still. He needs to be doing something. So when the weather is decent or at least bearable for half an hour, which it is most days, we go outside. I read while he plays in the yard, on the patio, or on the playset, and the baby plays in his playpen. I know he is paying attention because of the questions he asks and statements he makes. It’s a lot like narration, but without me having to make him tell me. In the house, he can draw or play with toys while I read. It works really well for us.

    • Hey, you have the same initials as Charlotte Mason! :) But I know who you are, of course. That sounds lovely. Can’t wait until weather cools down and we can go outside for more reading times. Be sure and share with us sometime your favorite read-alouds for active boys!