Soon, Gabrielle slides off her mother's lap and moves over to her stuffed animals. Her mom knows better than to try to finish the book. For Gabrielle and lots of other toddlers, these little bits of reading are just right.
Reasons to Read to Toddlers
Studies show that kids with active exposure to language have social and educational advantages over their peers — and reading is one of the best exposures to language.
Reading to toddlers sets the foundation for later independent reading. Reading problems can be challenging to fix when discovered in elementary school, but most reading problems can be prevented if exposure to reading starts in the toddler and preschool years. Before children can read independently, they need emergent literacy skills.
- having a large vocabulary of words and knowing how to use them
- understanding that words are made up of smaller sounds (called phonemic awareness)
- understanding that marks on a page represent letters and words
- knowing the letters of the alphabet
Helping the Transition to Toddlerhood
Reading aloud is also an important way to help kids make the transition from babyhood to toddlerhood. Between the ages of 1 and 3, toddlers have triumphs and challenges, so it can help for them to hear stories about other kids and how they managed fears about what's under the bed and tackled the challenge of using the potty.
Kids make big leaps in vocabulary during this time, and learn about letters, shapes, colors, weather, animals, seasons — all of which can be reinforced through books. Choose books with many pictures your child can point to and name.
But while eager to learn about the world and experience it, your toddler also needs a strong connection with you. Reading together regularly can strengthen that connection, helping your toddler feel safe and comfortable.
When and How to Read to Toddlers
Experts recommend reading to toddlers as often as possible, striving for at least one scheduled reading time each day. Choosing regular times to read (especially before naps and bedtime) helps kids learn to sit with a book and relax. But you can read anytime your child seems in the mood.
If your toddler will let you, hold him or her in your lap when you read. It's a great spot for:
- helping kids feel safe, happy, and relaxed
- giving undivided attention
- showing new things
- inviting participation
You'll find that your toddler wants to be independent and successful. Encourage this by offering three or four books to choose from, praising the selection, letting your toddler help you turn pages, and asking for help as you find things on a page. Your child will love to finish sentences in books with repetitive phrasing or rhymes. When you come to a repetitive phrase or rhyme in a book, pause and let your child finish.
Here are some additional reading tips:
- Read whatever books your toddler asks for, even if it's the same book every night for weeks and weeks (and weeks and weeks).
- Read slowly enough for your toddler to understand.
- Read expressively, using different voices for different characters and raising or lowering your voice as appropriate.
- Choose board books or cloth books that are durable. You can let your child use these books independently without having to worry about pages getting ripped.
- Use puppets, finger plays (like the "Itsy Bitsy Spider"), or props while you read.
- Encourage your toddler to clap or sing when you read rhythmic, sing-song books.
- Talk about the illustrations. Point to items and name them. Then ask your child to name them with you and offer enthusiastic praise.
- Ask open-ended questions — "Why do you think the lion is going into the woods? What do you think will happen next?" This encourages your child to think about the story and to ask questions.
- Substitute your child's name for the name of a character in the book.
- Have fun! Show your child that reading is enjoyable.
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