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Reading with toddlers

Toddlers are learning so much about the world around them that it’s hard to sit still! Don’t worry if you can’t get through a whole book. The main thing to keep in mind when reading with toddlers is that it has more to do with pointing and talking than with them sitting still and listening. Have fun together enjoying stories and books, and include lots of conversation, songs and play.

There are many great options for toddler books. Board books are a great choice as they are durable and can withstand many readings, as well as being used in play. A good toddler storybook often shows the sequence of common routines—such as bedtime, taking a walk, or bath time. While reading storybooks, take time to talk about what is happening and make connections to what your family does that is either the same or different.

Your child’s ability to remember and their vocabulary are growing tremendously, and books that introduce first words and emotions feed their desire for information. Books that incorporate touching and feeling, and any book with flaps, create moments for interaction that are ideal for this age.

How to encourage reading in a toddler:

  • Keep books where children can see and reach them
  • Allow your child to choose what to read whenever possible
  • Provide your child a variety of books—story, learning, humorous, rhyming books
  • Build several moments for reading into your daily routine
  • Resist taking away reading time as a consequence. (“We will not read a bedtime story tonight if…)
  • Limit screen time and television viewing

How to manage reading with a toddler:

  • Turn off TV/radio/phone, so you can both concentrate
  • Be willing to read only parts of a book and pages out of order
  • Read when asked
  • Let your child hold the book and turn the pages
  • Sit close to your child, as much as possible, while reading
  • Do a ‘picture walk’ where you talk about the illustrations together. This can be a way of them ‘reading’ a story to you

At this age disregard the commonly held idea that you must read to your child for a set amount of time (20 minutes) in one sitting every day, or that you are a failure if you can’t get your toddler to sit still to “read.” This phase of your toddler’s development requires patience, being flexible and including lots of conversation, using a varied vocabulary, and modeling a love of reading.


A child can learn and benefit greatly from being read to right from the day they are born.

Grab a book, snuggle up with your child and share the joy of story-telling with them. The benefits of reading out loud to your baby or young child are simply endless!

Benefits

  • It encourages children to make connections between the "heard" word and the meaning "behind" the word
  • It gives them a positive foundation to pre-reading skills that aids the process of becoming independent readers in the future
  • One of the most important skills a parent can teach children is how to communicate: how to speak, listen, and to read. By reading aloud to your children, you are teaching them all of these skills
  • Reading to young children expands their vocabulary, improves memory, and allows them to practise listening skills. It also helps to develop thinking and the imagination
  • Read to your child from a variety of sources. Such as books, cereal boxes, magazines, road signs, and greeting cards. By reading from a variety of sources, you are teaching the importance of the written word
  • As your child becomes older, they will want books that actually tell a story and have an ending that makes sense. Books help to develop the toddler's attention span. They contribute to children forming a rich vocabulary and verbal skills
  • They also contribute to the development of basic reading concepts such as following the words from the left to right side of a page.

What you can do:

  • Try making books together from cardboard and pasting in pictures from magazines - kids love these
  • Incorporate movement and actions that go along with the books. For example, when reading "Humpty Dumpty" pretend to fall with your little one at the right time. They will soon come to anticipate this movement and be really excited about it. It's remarkable how quickly they learn these little routines and grow to love them
  • Toddlers rapidly develop a group of favorite books and will want you to read them again and again. This can be a little boring for you, but it's important to your toddler because repetition helps them to learn the meaning of words, which is vital for language development

Try taking your young child to your local library to choose their own books. Many libraries offer free Story Time sessions for young children. This will go a long way to nurturing a love of reading, and helping your child become a proficient and confident reader later on in life.

(This article is contributed to by Raising Literacy Australia, a not-for-profit organisation committed to enriching Australian lives through literacy.)