Your child may not start to learn to read until kindergarten, but that doesn’t mean he or she can’t love reading before then. Toddlers love to explore and learn and try new things, so age two to five is a great time to show them how much fun a good book can be. Here are six ways to help you teach your toddler to love reading!
Make books available
This is so obvious it almost doesn’t need to be said, but you need to have some books on hand if you’re going to teach your toddler to love reading. Whether you buy them new or gently used, or just have a rotating pile borrowed from the library, make sure to have at least a few children’s books in your home at all times. If you don’t want to have a ton of picture books cluttering up your house, an anthology of children’s books is a great way to have lots of stories without sacrificing a ton of shelf space.
Let them play with books
This is a hard one for me. As a serious bibliophile, it sometimes pains me to let very young children handle books. What if they tear a page? What if they chew on it? What if they ruin it?? I’ve had to get over my need for pristine books, though, and just let the kids explore. Toddlers learn about the world by testing their limits and using as many senses as possible. Turning pages, throwing books, and yes, sometimes gnawing on the covers are all just ways for kids to figure out how books work. By allowing them to play with books, I’m teaching my girls that books are meant to be enjoyed, not just left on a shelf to collect dust. Any special books are kept out of reach, but the rest of our collection is available for any child to look at…or sit on or stack into a big pile or push around in a stroller, as the case may be!
Make reading part of your daily routine
I mentioned this when talking about how to teach your baby to love reading, and will probably say it again: children thrive on predictability. Find fifteen minutes in your day to have regular story time with your toddler, whether it’s right after dinner or before you leave for work in the morning or while your older kids work on homework after school. That one-on-one time will become precious to both of you, and your toddler will associate feelings of love, peace, and contentment with reading.
Have snacks on hand
Toddlers are busy! Sitting still and being quiet aren’t exactly their favorite things to do, but if you’re going to read together, both are necessary. So how do you keep your little one occupied while you read? Feed her. You read while she munches on apple slices. She may seem to be paying more attention to her snack than to the story, but you might also be surprised how closely she is listening.
Talk about what you are reading
Reading the same books over and over again can get boring. Shake things up by talking about the pictures or asking your toddler questions about the story. Have your child identify colors, count objects, look for certain shapes or letters on a page, or make predictions about what will happen next. Activities like these can help build vocabulary, foster creativity, and improve reading comprehension.
You can also talk about books when you aren’t reading. Spotting a baby bird at the park might remind you of Are You My Mother? Reading books like How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? can be helpful in teaching table manners. Harry the Dirty Dog could spark conversations about dogs, or baths, or how fun it is to play outside in the dirt. Include the stories you read in your day-to-day conversations to help your child connect them to real life.
Let them participate
When reading familiar books–the ones you’ve read a thousand times–let your toddler help you. This works especially well with rhyming books. For example, I will read, “I do not like…” and my daughter says, “Green eggs and ham,” then I read, “I do not like them…” and she says, “Sam-I-Am!” Your child will learn to pay closer attention and follow along, because he never knows when it will be his turn to “read” the next part!
Go to the library
Libraries are a great place for toddlers to learn to love reading. Many have regularly scheduled story times for young children, usually with interactive elements like songs or finger games. Talk to your librarians about ways to foster a love of reading at home. They can recommend the best new books, point you toward great classics, give you ideas for making reading fun, and suggest other resources in the community or online that can help you. If you don’t know where the nearest library to you is, look it up on LibWeb and start taking advantage of this great–and free!–resource.
Jen is the mother of two sweet girls; her days are filled with Dr. Seuss books and laundry, block castles and pink tutus. Reading is her first passion. Finding and testing out delicious recipes is a close second. She and her husband are working on making their fixer-upper home into something amazing. It’s a satisfying but painfully slow process. Read more from Jen at her blog: Nothing Can Come Of Nothing.
Jen makes her home in the Alberta prairies with her husband and young daughter, where she writes about all things DIY. From home renovations to arts and crafts, if it's home decor she'll get her hands dirty and give it a shot!