Herding Cats: Cultivating a Love of Reading in Your Toddler

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The other day, my friend Pam asked me to help out with a question posed by a reader on her blog.  Since Gv is in the toddler stage at the moment and we’re kind of into books around our house, Pam thought I’d have a few helpful tips to share regarding the subject.  The fact that I’m a former elementary school teacher probably didn’t hurt, either, especially since I taught first and second grades ‐ years which are primarily focused on learning to read.

I sent Pam a response to include in her blog’s monthly newsletter, but I realized I had much more to share and knew these tips would be helpful to many of you as well.

The reader’s dilemma was that although everyone always says it’s important to read to toddlers, hers never wanted to sit still.  He would just come over to look at the pictures every so often and didn't really seem to be listening.  This concerned mom wondered what to do.

If this situation sounds all too familiar, take heart and don’t panic, because your predicament is extremely common among the toddling set! 

Toddlers are constantly on the move and absorbing everything they can from their environment at the same time, so don’t be afraid to keep reading while they’re moving around or playing ‐ they are still listening!

However, you’ll want to make sure the reading experience remains a positive one for your child.  If he or she expresses a desire to stop reading, honor that.  You can always offer another reading opportunity again in an hour or two.

To have the best chance of promoting your child’s emerging literacy skills, consider these ideas:

Book Choice

  • Choose books about whatever topic your toddler is into at moment (animals are always very popular, as well as books showing children engaged in everyday activities)
  • Choose active books with actions that accompany the story (think Wheels on the Bus or If You're Happy and You Know It)
  • Choose shorter books, or read just a few pages of a story at a time 
  • Allow your child to choose the book (even if it's the same one over and over that you’re sick of because you’ve read it 50 times already!) from a selection of three or four 
  • Find books with flaps to lift or textures to feel 
  • Don’t be afraid to read nonfiction selections ‐ remember that your little sponge loves to soak up all sorts of new information on just about any subject 
  • Since your toddler is making huge vocabulary leaps these days, choose books containing objects they can point to and name (they love to be involved!) 
  • Create and read homemade books or scrapbooks, or even photo albums (be sure to name familiar family and friends in the photos) 
  • Don’t hesitate to choose other print items like magazines, newspapers or even junk mail ‐ it's still reading!

Ways to Engage Your Child While Reading

General Tips

  • Read following vigorous activity or at quieter times of the day (like playing outside or before a nap) to promote a calm demeanor 
  • Tell stories (this still develops literacy skills) or listen to audiobooks while coloring or doing crafts
  • Take a trip to your local library ‐ you'd be amazed at some of the programs that are being offered!  Even if your child is going for Lego Club instead of story time, you can bet that those positive‐library feelings will pay off later on.

And of course it’s important to create a positive reading environment in your home. Don’t force it, just offer opportunities often.

This means having books available to your child to play with (board books are especially durable) as well as doing plenty of reading yourself (your little shadow not only loves to follow you around, but to imitate what you do!)  Make sure you’re reading physical books, too ‐ not just electronic versions.

Above all, don’t give up or get discouraged.  There will come a day when your little bundle of energy will come trotting up to you, book in hand, just begging to sit in your lap and have you read it!