When I was pregnant with my twins, I always said “When they grow up they can be anything they want- athletic, businessmen, construction workers, gay, straight, whatever!- as long as they love reading!” They’re now 16 months old and they genuinely do love books and reading but it’s much trickier to sustain with toddlers than it was when they were little babies that would just snuggle on my lap for as long as I wanted. Toddlers want to move, to interact, to explore, and many parents despair because they can’t get them to sit still for books. If that describes you, don’t worry! It’s still totally possible to create and encourage a love of reading during the busy toddler years with a few easy tricks.
How do you get your toddler to love reading?
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This one might seem obvious, but it’s worth stating here. The biggest thing that gets children to love reading from the beginning of their lives is when they associate stories with cozy snuggles and attention from their loved ones. Their first experiences of reading while cuddled on someone’s lap make books feel like warm and safe places. Taking time every day to read with your toddler- no TV, no smartphones, no distractions- is the single best way to start them on a lifetime of loving books.
Read with Expression
Don’t worry about your toddler judging you for being too silly (they won’t!) Adults so often feel self conscious about letting go and being silly, but the magic of young children is that they drag that out of us. When you’re reading with your toddler, get loud! Do sound effects! Come up with silly voices for the different characters. Laugh, goof, and enjoy. Sanda Boynton’s Doggies is a great one for this- it has so many different dog sound effects, including, but not limited to, ‘the nine dogs on a moonlight night’ “Arooooooooo!” Since I’m not afraid to let go and howl, my toddlers howl along with me, and it is the cutest and most wonderful thing in the world. You may have to save certain books to read with your child when other adults aren’t around if you feel to weird about this, and that’s okay- you don’t have to read for other adults. But don’t miss out on the fun that comes when you really get into reading for your kids.
Read the Same Books Over and Over
You might think that your toddler wants a new book every other day but it’s actually the opposite. Toddlers are lost in a big world that’s full of new things and unpredictability, and they find security in what they know and understand. When they hear a book over and over, it becomes a place of safety and predictability for them. They start to respond to it, to read or sing along, to join in on the sound effects. As a bonus, it helps with expression too- once you’ve read a book many times, you are able to read it more smoothly and you can come up with little embellishments at certain parts. It can be totally painful to read the same book on repeat sometimes, but your toddler will thank you!
Check out this list of the Best Bouncy Board Books for some titles that you will WANT to read over and over!
Display Books the Right Way
I actually have a whole separate post on this exact topic, so I won’t repeat myself, but here’s the link: Tips for Storing Books so your Kids will Want to Read Them. Think display shelves and lots of baskets with favorite books in strategic spots around your home!
(Pictured- a collection of beautiful AND toddler-approved books: Big Bear, Small Mouse, Bear Sees Colors, Alphaprints Sea Life, Alphaprints Colors, Our Pantone:Colors song book hack, See, Touch, Feel!, Noisy Things that Go!, Noisy Baby Animals!, Never Touch a Dragon!, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and My Little Word Book.)
Have a cozy reading spot your toddler can access on their own
Our reading corner in our playroom is an old crib mattress in the playroom, with a couple of pillows and a little basket of favorite board books. Currently it’s tucked between our giant cardboard fire truck and the back of our couch, and I draped a blanket over it to make it into a little fort, but yours doesn’t have to be that fancy! Anywhere you and your toddler can snuggle to read will work.
The reason I say your toddler should be able to access it on their own is because it allows them to initiate reading time! My boys like to crawl to their reading corner and lie down, which is their cue that they want me to follow and tickle them. After a little tickle sesh, we pick books out of the basket and read them together.
Growing Book By Book has a great roundup of cozy reading nook ideas Here!
Read while they’re in high chairs
Your toddler won’t sit still, right? Unless…. they’re eating? When they’re in high chairs, their hands and mouths are busy, which makes them infinitely more able to stay in one place for a little while. This is a great time to pull out some favorite picture books and read to them. Dinner and a show! I use this time to share paperbacks and hardcovers- at other times, we only read board books, but since they can’t reach the books from their chairs, we can all safely enjoy a wider variety of stories!
Check out some of our favorites; 10 Rhyming Picture Books That Babies Will Love… Now, and Later!
Make Bedtime Stories Work for You!
You probably don’t need me to tell you how important it is to make bedtime stories part of your nightly routine. We all know that bedtime stories make reading a daily thing, help children calm down, and signal that it’s almost time to sleep. Often, however, toddlers are too wiggly to sit still for bedtime stories, and parents end up rushing through them, fighting over them, or skipping them altogether and feeling guilty! The thing is, even if your toddler can’t sit still, it doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy listening to stories.
Try putting them in their crib, and sitting on the floor where they can see the book while you read. They’ll have the freedom to move around while they listen. My twins love standing and holding their crib railings to look down at books.
Even if they’re out of their crib, you may be able to close the bedroom door and let them wander the room while you read. You’d be surprised- often they’re listening, even if it doesn’t look like it!
Another option is to give your toddler something to play with while you read- maybe a taggie blanket or a cuddly lovey. Having something in their hands may make it easier for them to sit and focus.
And of course, bedtime stories are much more likely to be successful if you have a good selection of books. Here’s a list of our favorites: Best Bedtime Stories
Plus a bonus just for this list;
This is our hands-down favorite toddler bedtime story! The little owl has lost his mom and he listens for her everywhere, but the sounds he hears are the wrong ones! My twins love the different noises (cheeps, croaks, and the long tooooot of the train whistle) and shaking their head “Nooooo!” on every page. I love all of the vocabulary-building descriptions; “That is definitely not Mommy Owl! That sound is too low. That is toad.” and the sweet conclusion when Mommy Owl’s “hoot” is “the nicest sound of all”.
Bring Books on the Go!
Before smartphones and tablets, people often carried books with them to entertain themselves whenever they had to wait. You can help push back against too much screen time by bringing that practice back! When you’re waiting in a doctor’s office, a restaurant, or wherever, instead of amusing your toddler with a screen, pull out a book that you can read together. I have a dedicated pocket in our diaper bag for a couple of high-interest board books. Some fun favorites (that don’t take up too much space!); Jamberry, Mr Brown Can Moo, Can You? And Doggies.
Don’t feel obligated to read the whole book!
This one is really hard for me, too, but it’s important! Toddlers may not be able to sustain attention for every word in a story, and that’s okay! If they enjoy listening to the cadence of rhyming words, then by all means, read all the rhyming words, but sometimes it’s acceptable to stop halfway, to paraphrase, or even ignore the printed text altogether and just point and talk about the illustrations! Actually, your toddler may learn the most from the last tactic, as having conversations with you about the pictures is a great way for them to grow their vocabulary. One of our most beloved books right now is “My Little Word Book“, which has photos of about twenty things on each page (organized by category). If I tried to point out each one, we’d all go crazy! Instead, I point to and name about three favorite items on each page, and we talk about them. (For example, on the page showing body parts we point to nose, ears and bellies, and the boys touch their own). Once they’re solid with the first few selections, we’ll start adding more, but the trick is not to overwhelm them with too much at once.
Engage your child’s interests
One of the best parts of being a parent is watching your child’s unique interests emerge and change. There are so many wonderful books for any topic your toddler might love, and the more you can connect to their interests, the more they’ll be excited about reading (this goes for older kids too, of course!!). For example, my toddlers have recently decided that they LOVE airplanes, so we’ll be reading Planes by Chris Demarest, The Airport Book, and “My First Book of Noisy Things that Go”. If you aren’t sure about where to find good books on a certain topic, you can always ask your local librarian!
Oh! And if your child happens to be interested in firefighters, you’re in luck! Click here to check out: The Ultimate Guide to Children’s Books about Firefighters!
Find Really Fun Books!
Obviously, the best way to get your toddler to love reading is to have books they love to read! That might mean finding some really funny books (check out Children’s Books That Get Everyone Giggling!) or fun, rhyming Bouncy Board Books!
Sometimes, toddlers need a little something extra from their books- a sensory element, some textures, some sounds- to get them to stay really interested. There are SO many wonderful interactive books for toddlers, but here are a few recommendations for books that your toddler can really engage in!
Touch and Feel Books
Usborne has a TON of these books with all sorts of different animals! In each one, the little mouse is looking for it’s specific animal, and it explains why each one is wrong (until the last page, of course!). For example, one page might say “That’s not my elephant- it’s ears are too scratchy!” They have a good variety of touch-and-feel textures, and great descriptive words to build vocabulary.
The touch and feel elements in this book are two-way-sequins! To be honest, I don’t 100% love how this book was designed, as sometimes the sequins get stuck around the sides of the page, but it’s so cool that I’m willing to live with the imperfection, and it still gets lots of use. As a bonus, the rhyming words are adorable and the illustrations are really fun.
We LOVE the sounds from Noisy Things that Go! and Noisy Baby Animals! Books with buttons to press that make noise always seemed like cheating to me as a teacher (and aren’t really advisable in the classroom anyway!) but they’re awesome for toddlers. The whole idea is to give toddlers the impression that books are exciting and fun, and the extra “ooph” that sound effects bring is, in my opinion, worth it as a step toward that goal! Here are some more fun books with buttons that make noise;
There are two things that I adore about this book. First, that it’s introducing my kids to a variety of quality classical music pieces, since I’m a sucker for high-brow things like that. I also love that instead of buttons for music, there are little circles that your toddler only needs to touch gently for the music to start. My guys are so little that sometimes their fingers aren’t strong enough to push the buttons on sound books, but they can work this one on their own.
This one, also, makes me feel like a cool classy parent! I always read it while the boys are in their high chairs because it is not a board book, and I don’t want them destroying the pages. It talks about all of the elements of going to the symphony, dabbles in music theory, and has facts and a sound clip for each instrument. My personal favorite button is the one that plays the sound of an orchestra tuning up. It always makes me feel like I’m actually at a concert. So exciting! There are a good number of buttons, the sound is clear, and all of the music clips are from Beethoven’s 5th symphony. This is a great book!
After “Welcome to the Symphony” I always read “Allegro.” This one is a story of a little boy who doesn’t want to practice the piano, and imagines himself going on a musical journey instead. It features a good variety of classical music clips, one for each page, paired with absolutely stunning artistic illustrations. I love how all of the imagined scenes match the mood of the pieces, and have little musical references drawn in (for example, to go with “Symphony for a New World” there’s a painting of Allegro on a beach- but the beach looks like a piano keyboard). Everything about this book is just lovely, and my toddlers adore it.
Toddlers absolutely LOVE song books as well- and you don’t have to be an awesome singer for them to enjoy them with you. Check out my extensive list of song books that we adore here: Song Books that Your Kids will Love
Search and Find Books
Sometimes the best books don’t even have a story! Toddlers will love sharing the puzzle of books that ask them to search the pictures and find specific things.
Note: this poor book has nothing to do with the unfortunate youtube crisis of April 2019. It’s perfectly lovely and innocent and there are no hidden scary pictures.
On each spread in this gorgeous book, the left page has four images- the dog, Momo, and three objects. The facing page is a photograph of a location- a garden, a carnival, etc, where the objects and dog are all hidden. The hidden items are slightly challenging, but still easy enough for a toddler to find. The photography is top-notch, and makes it really worth having.
The creators of the classic “I Spy” series have also made a set of board books for toddler readers. These also have photos on the left page of items that can also be found in the more complicated picture on the right. This is a great introduction to search and find books, nice and clear, and a lovely way to build vocabulary!
Unique and Interactive Books
Before airplanes, my toddlers were obsessed with things that spin, and some good friends of ours found this book as a gift. Huge hit! Each page has a different rescue truck and a rhyming verse, and the wheels really spin (the pages are cutout so there’s really just one set of spinning wheels). It’s so much fun to read and play with!
Mirrors are always fun, and this book has them on almost every page! There are sweet, Eric-Carle-Style illustrations with embedded mirrors, and lovely rhyming words. Parents will enjoy reading it as much as children will enjoy peering at themselves.
This book has different cutouts on each page, so when you shine a flashlight through them, the shapes appear on the ceiling. It’s a really fun way to play with light and shadows, build those concepts, and wind down before bedtime. For a while when my boys were younger, we used the shadows on the ceiling to entertain them while we put their pajamas on, which eliminated lots of fussing! This book even inspired me to DIY some shadow cards of my own- find out how I made them here: DIY Light and Shadow Cards.
I’m not normally a fan of lift-the-flap books- as a teacher, I’ve just watched too many get immediately destroyed by little hands. I’ll make an exception for this one, though, because it’s cloth (and therefore indestructible), the flaps are easy for tiny humans to grasp and move, and it’s so much fun! Each page has a rhyming clue about a forest animal, and the animal is under a crinkly fabric flap. Children will most likely grow out of it by about two, but for younger toddlers, this one is a surefire hit!
This one is good for slightly older toddlers (think 2 1/2 +) as it requires some understanding, but the premise is really fun- the directions tell the reader to press certain places on the page, and then on the next page, you see the effect- the little dots multiply, change colors, smear, etc.
For basically the same concept, but for slightly younger readers, you can also check out “Don’t Push the Button!”
How do you encourage a love of reading in your toddler?
Leave a comment and let me know!
To really jumpstart your reading journey, you could always try this Reading Bingo that I recently created- there’s even a specific baby/toddler version!
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