Reading to kids is critical, but with toddlers it’s not always as easy as snuggling up on the couch to read a mountain of books. Here are some practical ideas to encourage wiggly toddlers to love books and develop essential literacy skills.We are a book-loving family. For our first date, my husband and I took books to read in front of the fireplace in the lobby of a fancy hotel (of course, that night we talked for three hours and never got as far as opening our books). Now that we have three kids, we all love to read together. My boys will bring me book after book to snuggle on the couch and get lost in our imaginations together. We go to the library weekly, and come home with a full-to-bursting bag of books every time…but it wasn’t always this way.
My boys didn’t always snuggle contentedly in my lap whenever I pulled out a book and a blanket. There was a time where story-time consisted of me finding the shortest book I could and reading it as fast as possible while my toddler tried to squirm free and run off to go play with trains or trucks. Going to the library was torture, and if I ever got my to sit on my lap for more than five seconds, he just wanted to flip through the pages–usually backwards–as fast as possible. Forget the thought-provoking message and beautiful illustrations.
Before I actually had kids, I had imagined snuggling close to my little ones and savoring the countless wonder-filled stories of the world with them. I pictured us curled up on the couch peacefully at the end of the day, counting the three little bears sitting on their chairs and giggling when Harold draws a dragon with his purple crayon.
There is a vast body of research that supports the importance of reading to kids from a young age. Every time I saw articles like, “Ten reasons you should read to your kids,” I thought GREAT! I’m so there. However, as my snuggly baby turned into a toddler, he had NO interest in sitting still long enough to read.I wondered if I was doing something wrong. I wondered if he was abnormal in his lack of interest in reading. You know, all those terribly unproductive thoughts that run through our worried momma brains when we’ve had too little sleep and read one too many online forums about someone’s “DD” who does everything perfect. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who cringes at those!)
Thankfully, I left the online forums and found some more reliable information to read. It turns out, Little Man was completely normal. It just so happens that toddlers are extremely curious…about everything! That often makes it difficult for them to sit still and listen to a story because they want to experiment with the way the pages in the book flip. They hear a bird outside and need to look out the window to find it. They see a toy across the room and remember that they wanted to play with it.
Kids from 0-3 form 700 neural connections per SECOND! It’s no wonder they are constantly on the move.
Still, I knew reading was important for my child…but how to make it happen?
Let go of your expectations of what “reading” to your child means.
For awhile, reading time wasn’t a calm, cuddly time where I shared classic children’s literature with my son. I had to find ways to meet him on his level of interest and readiness to read. And that’s okay.
Once I learned to read the way he needed me to read, we both enjoyed the experience so much more. Plus, it gave him a positive association with books so that as he has grown, he has developed a deeper love for reading books. Now I can have my idyllic snuggle story time with my boys…we’ll snuggle up and read for twenty or thirty minutes at a time! It just took us awhile to get there.
If you’re struggling with a wiggly toddler, here are a few tips to help engage your toddler in reading.
Tips for Reading to a Busy Toddler
1. Let him turn the pages.
Give your child the reins for a change. Let your child set the pace of the story and turn the pages at his own pace. Even if that means you don’t read all of the words, your child will enjoy the process of reading with you.
You don’t have to read every single word of a book to enjoy it. Summarize what is happening on a page, or just leave out some of the more flowery descriptions. Your child can appreciate the finer details when he gets older. For now, stick with the abridged version.
3. Talk about the pictures.
If your child is really struggling to sit through a book, skip the written text all together. Just look at the pictures together and talk about what you see. Name the animals, colors, etc. For young toddlers, this can be a great way to build vocabulary.
4. Ham it up!
Be animated and expressive when you read. Your acting will help bring the book to life for your child. Use different–even silly–voices for the different characters. If the character is singing, make up your own melody and sing it! The more excited you are about reading, the more likely your enthusiasm is to rub off on your child.
5. Make it a game.
Instead of reading the book, turn it into an “I Spy” game. Ask your child, “can you find…?” Hunt for something green, or the ice cream cone, or the hidden mouse peeking out on each page. You might be surprised at how much your child has been paying attention to the pictures while you’ve been focused on the words.
6. Read on the run.
If your child really can’t sit still, don’t fight it. No one ever said your child had to be looking at the book with you. While your child is playing, try saying, “I’m going to read a book now.” Pick up a book and read it aloud while your child is busy playing on the floor nearby. Your child may wander over and decide he’s interested after all, or maybe not. Either way you’re exposing him to language and new ideas.
7. Turn it into a song.
Make up your own melody to sing the words of the book to, or sing the words to the melody of a song that is familiar to your child like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “Yankee Doodle.” Most kids love music, so using it might win over an otherwise uninterested toddler.
8. Choose wisely.
Picking the right books for your toddler’s attention span and interests is half the battle. Lengthy books with intricate plots are likely going to be difficult for a two-year-old. When in doubt, Pick short, funny books. Think Mo Willems and Sandra Boynton. Here are some of our favorite board books for young toddlers, and here are our favorite laugh-out-loud funny books.
9. Don’t give up!
Ultimately, just remember to keep reading…in whatever way works for you. Just like everything else, this “wiggly toddler syndrome” is just a phase, and your little one’s attention span will improve sooner than you may think. Create a culture of learning in your home, and eventually your dream of snuggling close laughing at stories together will probably become your reality.