It’s been 5 full minutes of chasing and wrestling, but you finally have your toddler in your lap, ready to read a story. You lean down to grab the book you want to read today, but boy, was that a mistake. Your toddler flies off your lap in a fraction of the time it took you to wrangle them up there in the first place. Looks like your little one had other plans. You’ve heard just how important it is to read to your child everyday, but how are you ever supposed to get your child interested in books if they won’t even look at one for more than 3 seconds? I’ve got news for you…you won’t have to worry anymore about how to read to toddlers because after reading this post, you will know:

  • the benefits of reading to toddlers
  • how often and when you should read to your toddler
  • my top tips on how to read to toddlers
  • books that will capture your toddler’s attention
Little girl in pigtails reading a book; how to read to toddlers

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The Benefits of Reading to Toddlers

You’ve heard just how important it is to read to toddlers every day…but why? Let’s take a look at some of the research.

Increases Vocabulary

Books are filled with vocabulary. In fact, each stage of language development in the early years of your toddler’s life can be represented within the books that you read with them.

For a toddler learning their first words, books provide more concrete examples of concepts and label new new words for your child to acquire in their speech.

As children’s vocabulary improves, a book’s vocabulary can become increasingly complex. Books hold language that we may not use in our everyday conversations with our child.

Vocabulary will help your child to become a stronger reader by improving their ability to identify words in the books they read and helping them to comprehend texts with more complex vocabulary.

Children who are read to on a consistent basis have heard significantly more words than children who are not, putting them leaps and bounds ahead in their reading development.

Improves Future Academic Success

Reading to your child every day has a direct impact on their future reading and cognitive abilities.

Despite a family’s background or environment at home, young children who were read to frequently at home demonstrated a significant impact on their future success in school.

Increases Focus and Attention

Mother and son sitting together and reading a book; how to read to toddlers

Reading to children helps them to focus on one activity for an extended period of time as opposed to jumping from one toy or game to the next.

As your child gets used to your reading routine, they will come to understand that reading is a time to get lost in a story and bond with you. And as they do this, they will be building stamina to be able to focus their attention on a book for increasing periods of time.

Fosters a Lifelong Love of Reading

Reading every day shows your toddler just how important reading is to you and your family. Your child will grow to value what you value so make reading a priority.

Through books, your child will be able to connect with characters and learn more about the things that they love. This will help them to love reading as they discover new adventures and see themselves in the characters.

How Often Should You Read to Your Toddlers?

Ideally, you should be reading to your toddler every day. Although this may be difficult, try to find a time during the day that you can set aside a couple of minutes to read.

It doesn’t have to be long…even just 5 minutes can have significant impacts on your child’s development.

Once you incorporate reading into your daily routine, it will become a treasured time that you won’t be able to imagine skipping.

Mother and son laying on bed and reading together; how to read to toddlers

When is the Best Time to Read to Toddlers?

Whenever your toddler wants to read with you is the perfect time to read.

As toddlers become more active and explore the world around them, you may notice that they have an increased interest in reading. They may use books as a part of their play or request for you to read with them.

Take advantage of this while you can!

If your child is at a stage where they don’t want anything to do with books, the best times to read is when they are sleepy and snuggly. I find reading before or after bedtime or nap time to be an ideal time for this.

But, an important thing to remember is that your toddler doesn’t have to be sitting still to reap the benefits of reading. If they choose to walk away, continue reading. They are listening even if they aren’t in your lap and they still may participate in the story.

Top Tips for Reading to Your Wiggly Toddler

Make the most of your reading time with these tips on how to read to toddlers.

1. Keep it Short

Your toddler’s attention span isn’t very big right now. Keep your reading sessions to around 5 minutes unless they they request more.

You can do multiple 5 minute sessions throughout the day, but there is no need for you to sit down for 20 minutes all at once and read a long story.

Even if you can’t read an entire book within 5 minutes, don’t worry about finishing it. The name of the game at this stage is exposure and keeping their motivation towards reading positive.

2. Get Animated

The more animated you are while reading, the more engaged your toddler will be with books.

They will love to hear how you vary your pitch and volume and how you change your voice for different characters.

Over-exaggerate your reading and they will love to come back for more!

3. Ask Questions

Your child’s vocabulary is growing at an exponential rate. To get your child involved in a book and capture their attention, ask them some simple questions about the book you are reading.

If they aren’t speaking yet, ask them to point to things in the illustrations.

If they are verbal, asking them questions like “What color is _____?” or “Who fell in the pond?” will help them start to verbalize their comprehension.

This makes them feel like a valued part of storytime with you. Just don’t overdo it. A couple of questions during a 5 minute period is sufficient.

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    4. Find Books that Double as Songs

    Toddlers love music so using books that double as songs like the Itsy, Bitsy Spider can captivate their attention.

    They will love to see illustrations of their favorite songs in action and may even want to dance or learn the motions that accompany their favorite books.

    5. Think about Your Toddler’s Interests

    One key to getting your toddler interested in reading with you is to think about what they love.

    I highly recommend doing what I call an “Interest Study” where you gather texts on your child’s favorite topic and do activities around them.

    They will be eager to look at pictures and learn more about the things they are already fascinated with so this is definitely something to take advantage of.

    6. Let Your Child Choose Books

    Young blonde girl resting on a stack of books; how to read to toddlers

    Give your child the opportunity to choose the books they want to read. They are more likely to sit down and read with you if they get to choose the book they want to hear.

    If your toddler comes up to you with a book, no matter how many times you have read it before, make sure you take the time to read that book with them.

    If you have a specific time set aside for reading, provide your toddler with the choice of 2-3 books and read the one they choose. Limited choices can help you quickly give your child a sense of autonomy.

    Take advantage of their interest in reading with you whenever you can.

    7. Use Interactive Books

    Nothing is more engaging than involving your child in the actual story. This is why Lift-the-Flap and Peekaboo books are so popular with young children.

    When reading these books, allow your toddler to lift the flaps at the appropriate time in the story. This makes them feel like they are a valued part of storytime.

    8. Let Your Child Take the Lead (Wiggly Tip!)

    It can be very frustrating when you are trying to read to your toddler and all they want to do is slip away. Don’t they know you are just trying to help them?

    If your child doesn’t want to sit down for reading time, don’t force it. You can keep reading to them even if they aren’t sitting on your lap.

    They are still listening and are reaping the benefits of storytime even though they aren’t sitting still.

    Keep at it and you might find that they will come back to look at pictures or continuously look at you while you are reading even though they aren’t 100% focused on the story.

    Sitting still IS NOT a requirement for reading.

    9. Take Advantage of Sleepy Times

    Family reading a bedtime story together; how to read to toddlers

    If you crave that bonding time with your child during reading, the best times to incorporate storytime is to take advantage of when your child is sleepy.

    When your child is sleepy, they tend to be more snuggly. Right before or after bed can be the perfect time to cuddle close and read together.

    10. Let Your Child Hold Something While You Read

    Sometimes even when they are sitting still, children still crave movement. My son always plays with my fingernails while we are reading even with his eyes glued to the books on the page.

    You can give your child a fidget like this or this to satisfy their sensory needs while you read with them. This can actually help them focus better!

    Best Books for Toddlers

    Below are some of the best books for captivating a toddler’s attention. These kid-approved favorites will quickly become beloved books in your house. Get more books to read to toddlers in this post here.

    Sound Books

    Sound books are perfect for having your child interact with the book while you are reading it. You can tell them press the sound button when the story requests it and give them an important role while reading.

    Touch-and-Feel Books

    These books are great for sensory input and your toddler will love feeling the different textures.

    Lift-the-Flap or Peekaboo Books

    Like I mentioned earlier, these books are extremely engaging for toddlers as they love to find things that are hiding. They also will love lifting the flaps during the story as a chance to be a part of the book experience.

    Song Books

    Song books are the perfect way to satisfy your toddler’s need for movement. Toddlers love music, so books that are songs are a great developmental tool that your child with enjoy.

    Rhyming Books with Engaging Characters

    Toddlerhood is a great time to start introducing your child to rhyming (a critical reading skill) and engaging characters. They will love the rhythm in these books as well as the silly characters who can make them giggle.

    What’s Next for Your Toddler’s Reading?

    After you’ve mastered how to read to toddlers and your toddler grows into a preschooler, your main focus will be to nurture a love of reading. Motivation plays a key role in a child’s reading abilities so finding ways to keep books interesting will be important.

    Mom reading toddler; how to read to toddlers

    Your toddler’s literacy skills will also be developing so you will want to start working on print and phonological awareness to set them up for reading success.

    However, the absolute most important and impactful thing you can do for your child is to continue reading every single day. There isn’t anything more beneficial to your child than you taking the time to read with them.

    What are your favorite tips and books for toddlers? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!