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Reading To Toddlers

woman and girl reading a book

You've dutifully set apart fifteen minutes to read to your three-year-old daughter: you've found a great book, gathered her onto your lap all ready to begin . . . only to have her squiggle away and start pulling out toys to play with. You know, because toys are fun.

There you sit with your picture book poised, and wonder whether to demand she listen to the book like you demand she partake of vegetables, grains, and other healthy stuff.

Wondering how to make reading time successful? (And we define successful as fun for your toddler and for you.) You'll find great resources and ideas next.

Ready, Set, Go!

"By the time children are two years old they have the capacity to learn 20 new words a day if they're exposed to them."   
Reading to toddlers is one of the best ways to build a child's vocabulary. Teachers and researchers agree that a child who is read to regularly will be far ahead in terms of reading readiness and also exhibit better social skills.   
A first grade teacher who taught for twenty years was asked, "What is the best way to prepare my child for school?" without hesitation she answered, "Do these three things: 1. Read, 2. Read, and 3. Read."

More Than One Way

We generally picture a child sitting on our lap or snuggled in close when we read to them, but research has found that "background reading," meaning reading books out loud to a child who's doing other things, is also helpful in teaching story structure and vocabulary to children.   
One author put it this way: "Toddlers learn important things while reading: some of them just learn them standing up!"   
It's also fine for a toddler to play with a favorite toy while you read to her, which can increase her ability to concentrate.   
Doing what is fun for you and your toddler is what's important: acting out the story, using puppets, asking questions about what you just read. It's not about getting through the book, it's about the attitude surrounding reading.

man holding girl

Just before bed,   
right after lunch, or   
every day at 10:00 a.m. . .   
A scheduled reading time will help your child understand reading is special and important.

Monroe County Public Library in Indiana has great booklists for kids, grouped in all sorts of helpful categories (like: Picture This!, Babies, Mysteries, etc.)

boy celebrating with arms raised above head

Reading time can be some of the most pleasant time you spend with your toddler. Really, it can! The benefits of reading together are clear: reading readiness increases, social skills improve, your child will develop a larger vocabulary (wait until your child asks for a dress "with a bustle"), and your child will develop a love for reading.

Remember President Monson's oft-quoted poem by Gillilan Strickland:

"You may have tangible wealth untold;   
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.   
Richer than I you can never be.”   
I had a Mother who read to me."

Best of all? Reading together gives us a reason to be close and share a fun moment every day with our toddler.


Strickland Gillilan, "The Reading Mother," in The Best Loved Poems of the American People, sel. Hazel Felleman (1936), 376.