Reading aloud to your child every day (yes, even when they’re little tiny babies) is one of the single most important things you can do to help them grow their listening, talking, and reading skills — especially if they’re a child with hearing loss.
What do you do when your curious and active toddler has a hard time sitting still for story time? Don’t give up! Stick to your goal of reading aloud together for 15 minutes every day - you just may have to get creative to keep their interest! Keep reading to learn some tried-and-true tips for reading to a busy toddler.
Books and stories are a wonderful way for your child to better understand the world. They take us places we otherwise can’t go. Reading aloud during those critical early years, between ages zero and three years old, helps:
School success starts with listening! Listening comprehension is the foundation for vocabulary development, talking, reading, and writing — all important skills for your child to do well in school. Think about it this way, children first need to hear words before they can begin to use them. Reading aloud to your little one provides wonderful listening opportunities. Books offer different words than what we use in everyday life — which helps your child’s vocabulary grow! And children who have larger vocabularies grow up to be better readers.
It’s not just about school either. Reading aloud together is a great wonderful way to bond as parent and child — there are emotional and mental benefits for both of you. Let’s explore some tips and tricks to spark your toddler’s curiosity and make reading time more interesting and engaging.
One of the most common times to read aloud is before bedtime. It’s a great way to take advantage of a calm time to cuddle up and read together. Have your child choose 3-4 books they’d like to read together. This offers them a sense of independence — and helps limit that negotiation for “just one more book please.”
Consider other times your toddler might want to be distracted with a story, like during mealtime or in transit, like in the car or on the bus. This can be a good time for little busybodies with the security of a highchair or car seat to keep them in one place!
Toddlers’ interest shifts frequently so keep books nearby in case you find a quiet moment where you can read together. Keep a book in your bag so you can bring it out while waiting for appointments or in places active toddlers get bored easily. Have books scattered in different locations all over your house so there’s always something to read nearby.
Use props and toys to keep your toddler engaged. Give them something to hold — maybe a toy that accompanies the story. Pause your reading and use the toy for your child to act out what’s happening in the book! So for example, if you’re reading “Little Blue Truck” grab a toy truck and have fun acting out the story! You can also have a snack ready to accompany the book, like a bowl of berries while you read “Jamberry!”
You also don't have to be sitting to read aloud! Stand up and act out the story while reading it — this will encourage them to follow your lead. Read books that have the characters doing different actions like wriggling, dancing, swinging, and running. Try “We're Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen — We love this one!
A ‘win’ towards your goal of reading daily doesn’t require reading every word. If there’s too much text to hold your child’s attention, you can talk about pictures or what’s happening in the story instead of reading word-for-word.
Make reading aloud an everyday habit. The more you read aloud, you’ll find that your child is more interested in reading for longer and longer periods of time. It helps you get more comfortable too! Jim Trelease says “Reading aloud comes naturally to very few people. To do it successfully and with ease, you must practice!” Be persistent and don’t give up. The rewards will pay off.
Make it so exciting that they can’t stay away!! Fun voices can help keep their attention. Use a deep low voice or whisper during certain parts. An easy way to make it fun? Use a sing-song voice instead of your usual speaking voice.
*GASP!* “Oh WOW!” The element of surprise works wonders to spark a toddler’s interest in what’s about to happen next. If they start to squirm or lose attention, pull their interest back in by building anticipation. Say something like "Uh Oh!" with a deep voice or "Oh No!" with a sad voice. Follow that up with "You won't believe what happened…." Then peek over the cover of the book to see if you got their attention. Soon they’ll be too curious to resist what you’re reading.
Replace characters with your child's name or other family members. For example, when reading “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” you can use their name! “Leo, Leo, what do you see?” Instead of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it’s Liza and the Three Bears.
Engage in conversation about the book to connect your child’s experiences to the book. For example, “oh my goodness! They’re at the beach. Remember when we went to the beach? What do you like about going to the beach?”
Many children’s books include sentences and phrases that are repeated, placing emphasis on rhyme, rhythm, and repetition of language. You may be familiar with popular ones like “Blue Hat, Green Hat” or “Are You My Mother?”
Books with repeatable lines help your child learn about the patterns in spoken language. When you read a book with repeatable lines, stop at various points in the story to allow your child to fill in the missing word or phrase. They’ll love to predict what comes next and participate. You’ll love to see how excited your child gets when they have a role to play!
Little ones love lift-the-flap books because they create an element of surprise and are interactive! Plus, for a child with hearing loss, you can use the Hear It Before They See It strategy and provide ear contact before eye contact to improve their auditory skill development. You don’t need to buy special books because, with sticky notes, you can turn any book into a flap book.
Before you read the book together, cover something of interest on each page with a sticky note. Then, as you read you can talk to your little one about what the picture might be. Give them clues and then lift the flap together. “I wonder what the hungry caterpillar ate next? Can you guess? It’s big and red and juicy and goes CRUNCH! Let’s lift the flap and see what he ate!”
Reading aloud together supports their brain development, prepares them for school, and provides time for sweet bonding moments you’ll have together, as the toddler years can be magical. Check out the videos below for more on reading to a toddler!
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