Listening to your kid read a book for the first time -- well, it doesn't get much better than that. While you'll want to encourage her progress, resist rushing her into more complex titles. "Some parents expect their child to go from an early reader to the Junie B. Jones series practically overnight, and that can be frustrating for the child," says Dr. Burkins. Move forward at a pace that makes your kid ask for more rather than wearing her out.
Test new titles. If you're not sure whether a book is a good level for your kid, open to a random page and have her read it. "If she misses between one and five words, the book is probably just right," says Taylor. If your kid had trouble with more than five words (even after you made the first sound or two to help), it will probably be frustrating for her to read it on her own. But it still might be a great choice to listen to on CD when you'll be in the car for a while. The Amelia Bedelia series, Charlotte's Web, The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are entertaining for the entire family. "Reading along with audiobooks helps children advance when they're bumping up against the limits of their word and understanding skills," says Dr. Burkins.
Keep reading to your child. Just because your kid is a reader now doesn't mean you're off the hook with the bedtime story. "A young reader benefits from listening to stories just as much now as before," says Dr. Burkins. "It'll help her with vocabulary, sentence structure, and comprehension." Plus, she'll enjoy the more interesting and more developed plots in the longer books that she can't read on her own yet. Some fabulous choices that you can read to your child at bedtime over the course of a week: Soupy Saturdays With the Pain & The Great One, the Magic Tree House series as well as their accompanying research guides, and Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure. Or try some nonfiction titles such as Insect Detective, Just One Bite, and Older Than the Stars.
Host a book playdate. Does your kid have a couple of friends who are also big fans of Cam Jansen, Captain Underpants, Katie Kazoo, or another early chapter-book series? Pick a book for the kids to read before they come over, and give them time to talk to each other about the characters, their favorite part of the story, and whether or not they liked the ending. Set out craft supplies so they can draw their favorite scene or favorite character from the book. You can facilitate the activities and discussion, of course, but give the kids a lot of autonomy. If it works out, suggest a monthly book club to the other moms. Set up a schedule (like after school on the first Friday of the month) and agree to rotate houses. "Children can start getting together to talk about books around age 6, or even earlier if the structure is flexible," says Dr. Burkins.
Originally published in the September 2011 issue of Parents magazine.