I received a lovely email this week from one of our readers and bookshop customers, Mommy Audrey, about reading to toddlers. I asked her permission to reprint our exchange with the hope that other parents would benefit from it. I was able to identify with her concerns because Little Sir is about to turn two in a couple of months!
My son is 2 years old and, as many times as I’ve tried to read stories to him, he can rarely sit through an entire book. Can you offer any tips on how to get him to become more interested? Or is it really a matter of preference for them? Or do they start enjoying stories in their own time and at their own pace?
I’ve read that if you start reading to a child at an early age, they are more inclined to love reading as they grow up. I’ve been reading to my son since he was a few days old. I started with narrating and pointing out objects in picture books, then paraphrasing short stories into simple words that I felt he would understand, then now to reading each and every word whether or not he appears to be listening!
When he was a baby, he preferred eating the books to reading them, which I read is normal and should be allowed. I tried letting him chew on one book while reading another to him, which worked sometimes. But once he started walking, I found myself reading to empty air or to a toddler who insisted on flipping pages before I could get 2 words in! It sometimes get frustrating since I really want to bond with him over books!
There are some books that he really enjoys, though. He LOVES (bordering on obsession!) the alphabet and is usually seen toting an ABC book while naming all the objects that start with each letter. Generally he likes books with objects/animals that he can identify in one word.
I’ve noticed that he also loves picture books with sequences that can be sung — Farmer in the Dell, Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, This is the House that Jack Built, Old MacDonald, etc. Those books he can read over and over. But how do I get him to like story books??? :S Any suggestions? Or can you recommend a book that’s sort of along that theme but has more of a “story”?
Doesn’t it sound like Mommy Audrey and her son are doing great already? I told her so, as I really loved her email for several things:
1. She started reading to her son at an early age
2. She is an active reader and points out objects
3. She has observed her child enough to know what kind of books he loves to read
4. She supports his interests by giving him the type of books that he likes
5. Her son LOVES books
Mommy Audrey is concerned though about “reading to empty air” and getting her child to like story books. I offered advice based on the developmental characteristics of the two-year-old. Knowing where a child is developmentally helps in setting one’s expectations.
The Two Year Old Child
It is perfectly normal for a 2-year -old to have a short attention span. At this age, he is physically active and is busy exploring his surroundings. You would find him walking or running about just when you’re hoping for some cuddle time!
It’s also the age when toddlers are trying new words and are building their vocabulary. When Mommy Audrey points out objects in a picture book, she is helping her son expand his vocabulary, and if the object is familiar, she is also giving him something that he can relate with.
Developmentally, toddlers cannot yet follow the intricate details of a story. One-word or one-sentence pages are best to keep their attention. They love repetitive and predictable phrases which make them feel accomplished and secure since they know what’s going to happen next. It gives them a kick out of filling in the blanks!
Toddlers, especially boys, like books with action, or storytelling with actions, songs, voices… in short, exaggerated reading! Lastly, young children need to hear a story again and again and again to fully internalize it.
Based on Mommy Audrey’s description, her son is right where he should be in terms of reading – really fantastic! And to answer her request for book suggestions, here are some on the top of my list:
- Five Little Monkeys – perfect for jumping on the bed while reciting!
- Five Little Ducks
- Alphabet books like Dr Seuss’ ABC
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You Hear (and others in the series) – for repetition and animal sounds
- We Have Planes At The Airport – since it’s a boy thing
- Good Night Moon
- Good Night, Gorilla – a fantastic wordless picture book!
- Each Peach Pear Plum – a funny book featuring familiar nursery rhyme characters