Reading with Your Toddler

What To Do & How To Do It

Reading to your little one is critical, but with toddlers, it may not always be as easy as it was once before. First time parents always have a beautiful picture of what reading with your little ones looks like. You sit together, with a cozy blanket draped over you, you read every word, on every page as your sweet little one stares back at you, listening so carefully and sitting so still. This fantasy is often one come true with your baby, but soon enough, you have a curious little toddler and your picture perfect book reading moments very quickly begins to change. I bet you are wondering “Yes! So what do I do now?”

Well, let me start by telling you, you are not alone! During the ages of birth to three, your little one is producing more than a million neural connections per second. Your little one is going to be extremely active in the early stages, and in the toddler phase, his curiosity is at an all-time peak. This often makes it difficult for little ones to sit down and listen attentively to a story for a sustained period of time. Still, we know that reading is very important for your little one, so what do you do and how do you make it happen?

First, and probably the most important step: let go of your expectation of what “reading” is supposed to look like. You need to find a way to meet your little one on his level. What is he interested in and is how does he want to read? Letting go of your expectations not only makes the experience more connected and enjoyable, but it helps your little one form positive associations to the experience of book reading.

Second tip, don’t read ALL the words. Yes, that is right, you don’t actually have to read every single word on each page. When I tell parents this, some look at me like I have lost it but it’s true, you don’t actually have to read all the words! Again, it is about meeting your kiddo where they are at. Your child may not be ready to listen to long, complex sentences or they may not be able to sit and attend to entire book quite yet, and that is okay! Try to highlight just a few key words, make sure to include nouns, colors, and verbs. Also, rather than reading the book verbatim, paraphrase instead: use short sentences or simply describe what is happening in each picture using a short, simple phrase or sentence. As you are labeling and describing what you see, point to the pictures. For example, you can point the duck and say “yellow duck, quack-quack” or “red car, beep-beep!”

Think about your positioning. It is always nice to have your little one curled on your lap, but make sure they can always see your face. Hearing the story is great, but it is even better if your little one can see you too! This allows your little one to watch your mouth and facial expressions while you read to them.

Let your little one turn the pages or lift the flaps. Sometimes, giving our little one control is completely okay, and actually encouraged! Allow your toddler to set the pace and turn the pages or lift the flaps when he is ready. This will help keep your little one engaged, motivated and curious!

Make it fun! Be animated and expressive when you read and bring the book to life for your little one! Use different voices for characters and facial expressions to convey emotions. This not only keeps your toddler engaged and entertained, but also helps your little one to learn about nonverbal communication skills and feelings. The more excited you are about reading, the more likely your child will be excited too!

Next tip, pick the right book! Pick the right book for your little one’s interests and attention span. Intricate books with plots, problems and solutions are likely going to be too complex for a toddler. I tend to always choose books that are short, simple, and multi-sensory, often including a sound and touch component/

Last, but certainly not least, do not give up! Keep reading in whatever way works best for you and your toddler. This doesn’t have to be some picture perfect moment, it can be while your little one is playing with cars and trucks, and you just pick up a book and begin reading and he wanders over to you. It can be in the bathtub, while he is splashing around and you begin reading and singing “Five Little Ducks.”

To encourage and support your little one’s reading journey, keep books in a basket or on a shelf in your little one’s room, where they can reach them and explore by themselves. Also, keep some books in the car or in your bag, making sure you always have book handy is a great idea.

As you embark on this beautiful journey of reading with your toddler, just keep in mind a few more things: Sitting still is not a requirement for book reading. There is no perfect way to read a book, in fact, it is so different from child to child, and day to day. So, give yourself some grace and kindness-you are doing just fine! Sometimes, my kiddos are sitting on my lap, while other times we are on our bellies just flipping the pages while I label things in the pictures, and other times we are standing up and acting out the book. Mix things up and always make sure the intention behind every activity is connection, not perfection. The key to book reading is being creative and staying connected to your child.

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Sholeh Shahinfar, MA, CCC-SLP, RYT

Sholeh Shahinfar, MA, CCC-SLP, RYT

Sholeh Shahinfar is the founder of Valued Voices, and a licensed Speech Language Pathologist, Child Communication Specialist and Certified Oral Motor Therapist. She is passionate about uplifting children’s voices in the world and inspiring self-expression. In her free time, she loves going to the ocean, exploring nature with her pup Kobe, and spending time with her family and friends!