The benefits of reading aloud to children are numerous. From an educational standpoint reading aloud to children promotes greater phonemic awareness, exposure to new, rich vocabulary and more elaborate grammatical constructions, and helps foster complex thinking skills. More importantly, it can increase children’s attention spans, aid their social and emotional development, foster empathy and bring awareness to different cultures and circumstances, and serve as a very important and integral bonding activity.
In our home I prioritize Montessori-friendly books as much as possible — stories grounded in reality that are topically appropriate given my children’s ages. For the first plane of development (ages 0-6), I prefer books that promote kindness and respect, acts of service, stewardship of the environment, and strong family values.
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While I personally prefer reading aloud from a book, in the past few months we’ve begun to listen to more audiobooks. My older daughter listens to one chapter each night while I nurse my youngest during our bedtime routine, and we also occasionally utilize audiobooks on longer road trips. We use both Librivox and Audible. You can sign up here for a free 30-day trial period of Audible and receive two credits at no cost. I usually balk at subscription services, but in this case we actually make use of it a lot as a family (especially now that my husband has a commute to work) so overall we’re pretty satisfied. I was pleasantly surprised to find there are a good number of Montessori-friendly books available to listen to with young children. But I’m still of the opinion that nothing beats curling up on the couch and enjoying a good book together!
If you feel your child may be ready to begin listening to longer stories, listed below are some of our favorite Montessori-friendly chapter books that we’ve enjoyed over the past year with our preschool-aged daughter.
ONE // The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lancaster Brisley: A collection of sweet and simple stories about a girl named Millicent Margaret Amanda, also known as Milly-Molly-Mandy, and her friends and family. The stories are based in an old-fashioned and quaint British village and truly comprise a great ‘first’ chapter book for preschoolers. Be sure to check out the sequel, More Milly-Molly-Mandy, too!
TWO // Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke: In this series of books, author Atinuke writes about a young girl named Anna Hibiscus and the adventures she has with her mom and dad and twin brothers along with much of her extended family whom all live in the same house in Africa. Several books in the series are available on Audible, including Anna Hibiscus; Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus; Hooray for Anna Hibiscus; and Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus.
THREE // The Children of Willow Farm by Enid Blyton: You’ll learn all about farm life with siblings Rory, Sheila, Benjy and Penny, along with Tammylan the Wild Man, in this book series by Enid Blyton. Having recently moved from London, the children are eager to begin planting seeds and harvesting crops, raising livestock, learning how to make butter and cheese, and helping repair their farmhouse. The first book in the series, The Children of Cherry Tree Farm, explores wildlife in the British countryside and introduces the children to Tammylan, a man who lives in the wild and has a wealth of information he shares with the children. The following two books — The Children of Willow Farm and More Adventures on Willow Farm — focus on the family’s attempt to manage a farm. These books are somewhat difficult to source in the United States; I ended up purchasing the entire series used via Amazon from a seller in the United Kingdom. They are so worth it, though! There are, however, a couple instances toward the beginning of Cherry Tree Farm that I edited or made a simple aside comment regarding Tammylan’s behavior.
FOUR // Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace: A charming and timeless book about two little girls who become best friends and spend their time together making up wonderful games to play and exploring their small neighborhood in Minnesota. The book celebrates the wonder of childhood and the power of imagination. The sequel, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, introduces a new playmate and even more fun-filled adventures.
FIVE // Akimbo and the Lions by Alexander McCall Smith: A young boy named Akimbo lives with his father on a game reserve in Africa. When a lion cub is accidentally caught in a trap, Akimbo helps raise it until it’s big enough to be released back into the wild. This is one book in a series written by Alexander McCall Smith that focuses on the themes of conservation and wildlife. Great for children who love animals and enjoy more ‘suspenseful’ stories. Several of the books in this series are also available on Audible, including Akimbo and the Lions, Akimbo and the Elephants, Akimbo and the Crocodile Man, and Akimbo and the Snakes.
SIX // All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor: A heartwarming historical fiction series set in the early 1900s that details the everyday happenings of a poor immigrant Jewish family with five daughters living in a tenement in New York. The girls are especially fond of books, sweet treats, and of course their family. This collection of stories also highlights Jewish traditions and holidays.
SEVEN // James Herriot’s Treasury for Children: A charming collection of animal stories told by a country veterinarian. The book is also beautifully illustrated, making this a perfect segue into chapter books for preschoolers.
EIGHT // Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sydney: An impoverished family of 5 children and their widowed mother struggle to make ends meet but try to remain upbeat and spirited even through a bout of measles and other setbacks.
NINE // Happy Little Family by Rebecca Caudill: Set in the early 1900s, this is the first in a four-book series about a young girl and her family living in rural Kentucky. Now that she is four years old, Bonnie Fairchild is excited to begin doing the same things her older siblings are allowed to do — skating on a frozen pond, wearing grown-up hats, walking on a path alone, and beginning school. The series also includes Schoolhouse in the Woods, Up and Down the River, and Schoolroom in the Parlor.
TEN // Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield: Written by a contemporary of Maria Montessori, Understood Betsy explores how giving a child the freedom to make her own choices and the responsibility of work is beneficial to her overall well-being and livelihood. In the book, 9-year-old orphan Elizabeth Ann is sent to live with her relatives on a farm in rural Vermont when her two loving, yet anxious and overbearing aunts are no longer able to care for her due to their health. The book describes her growth from weak and timid to strong, self confident, and independent. This book is available for free on Librivox.
ELEVEN // Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins: Set in Bangladesh a young girl named Naima is frustrated with her inability to help her family earn money simply because she is a girl. But when she accidentally wrecks her father’s rickshaw, she determines that she must find a way to pay for the repairs.
TWELVE // The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith: Eight-year-old Precious Ramotswe solves her first case as a detective when a classmate is wrongly accused of stealing snacks from the other children. Set in Botswana this book addresses issues of honesty, loyalty, integrity, and the dangers of making false assumptions. Discussion questions are included in the back of the book, along with a recipe for Precious’s Sponge Cake Worth Stealing.
What chapter books have you enjoyed reading with your preschoolers? Please leave a comment below as I’d love to add them to our reading list for the upcoming year!