Tips For Reading to Toddlers

By now, we all know how important it is to read to our children, and like me, I’m sure you’ve read article after article about the benefits it offers.

My husband and I have a nanny that comes a couple times a week to help us with our boys, and the other day as she was reading to my older son (who is almost two-and-a-half now!) , I noticed some of the techniques she was using as she read to him. It made me realize just how many different approaches we employ when reading to our kids, and so I thought I’d share some tips that I’ve collected that can make reading to your kids more engaging and interesting for them, so they take even more away from story time.

  1. Pointing Things Out. We all have things we’re working on with our kids. Maybe your child is working on colors or articles of clothing or parts of the body or directions like up, down, left, and right. Illustrations in books provide a great opportunity to work on these lessons. Stop on each page and ask your child to find something that’s red or green. Once they’ve mastered that, point to different parts of the illustrations and ask what color they are. Do this with whatever it is you’re working with your child on- I’ve found there are always ample opportunities to teach and reinforce in this manner.
  2. Stop to Count. Right now, we’re really trying to work on numbers with our older son, so we look for any opportunity to count- from the number of people or animals in a picture to the number of words on the page (as appropriate).
  3. Fill in the Blank. This is something my husband started to do one night and I was blown away by the results. I’m sure you have some books that are favorites of your child, and so you have read them more times than you can count. One night, as we read “Frosty the Snowman” to our son, my husband began to stop reading just before the last word in each line. He would look to my son who, much to my amazement, kept finishing the sentences! Before long, my husband was skipping notable words in the middle of the lines and my sone continued to fill in the blanks. Note: When my husband first started doing this, he would read the first line of two lines that ended in rhyming words and this gave my son a bit of a hint as to what was coming (and also helps introduce him to the concept of rhyming), so that may be a good way to start with this.
  4. What Happens Next. My older son currently has a bit of a crush on Minnie Mouse and one of the books he enjoys right now is the story of her adventures in babysitting a friend’s baby one day. At one point, the baby begins to cry, so Minnie sings a lullaby to calm the baby. The other day, at the point in the story when the baby began to cry, I asked my son what he thought Minnie should do to calm the baby and he softly said “sing lullaby” (and then proceeded to sing the cutest little song imaginable!). Now, I look for opportunities to stop and ask him what he thinks will happen next in his favorite books.
  5. Character Voices. This is another technique my husband likes to employ, and even though some of us are probably better at doing an array of voices than others, it’s worth making the attempt for several reasons. First of all, I think it’s entertaining and engaging for our kids when we do this. Some voices make them laugh and our vocal inflections as we read in a character’s voice can convey a lot about a situation to our kids (for instance if a character is mad or sad). Second, I think it also helps our kids to understand that there are different characters in a story that are interacting with one another. I’m sure they understand this already, but I think this makes it a bit more “real” for them and helps them understand that these are distinct characters because there are different voices (as opposed to a consistent narrator’s voice).
  6. Sound Effects. Sound effects can be a lot of fun, especially when you make them together. If you’re reading a book and there’s rain, make a “pitter patter” sound and encourage your toddler to join you. There are so many opportunities to make sound effects, from dragons with upset tummies (“blub blub blub” says my husband as he rubs his stomach) and trains to snoring people and sizzling pots and pans.
  7. Simply Ask Why. When you think your child is ready, try occasionally asking them why a character does something in a story. “Why did he open an umbrella?”, for instance. This is a slightly more advanced technique, so you have to sense when your child is ready for you to use it, but it’s a great way to check for comprehension and help your child to understand “if…then…” type concepts.

While I’m willing to bet you probably already employ some of these techniques, hopefully you pick up a tip or two here that proves useful.

Please share your tips as well in the comments section- I’m always looking for ways to make story time more fun and more beneficial!

Happy Reading!

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