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How to read to your toddler

Father and child reading

Reading to your toddler has endless benefits but it isn’t always a simple task to accomplish when your little one would rather play than stay!

Nubabi speech and language therapist, Carianne Vermeulen gives advice on how to read to your toddler and tips on how to keep your busy tot down long enough to enjoy a good story.

Toddlers are little word processors and this is the age when their vocabularies blossom.

The developing brain of a one to two year old is ready to hang on to every word and sponge up every syllable. Reading reinforces the understanding of new words and the contexts in which they are used. For instance, the colours of the rainbow to what a rainbow is. Reading also introduces them to words that they may not encounter in their daily lives — like a zebra.

Books are an ideal way to help your toddler develop various skills.

Reading to your little one incorporates listening skills, memory skills (ask questions about the story), cognitive and creative skills (they can help to find solutions for problems in the story or create new endings), vocabulary (talk about new concepts or words in the book), descriptive language (talk about what is happening in each of the pictures) and storytelling (they can retell the story to you using the pictures). It also supports a toddler’s emergent literacy skills – i.e. your child’s knowledge of reading and writing skills before he/she learn how to read and write words.

So go ahead, do up the drama whenever you are reading to your eager audience of one. Not only will they love listening to you, they’ll also pick up new ways to use all those newly learnt words!

If your toddler is loving his/her ever improving mobility and does not want to sit on your lap to read, here are some tips to keep a busy toddler down long enough to enjoy a good story:

  • Try a quick read. Forget about story time lasting an hour or even 15 minutes. Short books and shorter reading sessions fit best with a toddler who just can’t sit still. Go from page to page and idea to idea fairly rapidly to keep restlessness from setting in and your toddler from wandering off. Be ready to abruptly end story time after just a few minutes or pages if his need for speed gets the best of him.
  • Be consistent. Establish a good reading routine by having story time at least once a day, and be picky about your chosen hour. Reading to your little one will be much more welcome when he is wound down rather than hopped up. Right after waking, if your tot is still a little drowsy, is a good time or after a bath (the warm water is likely to slow down your little perpetual-motion machine). Making your reading sessions part of the bedtime ritual will ensure better listening and more go-to-sleep cooperation.
  • Use your literary license. You know what captivates your little one better than any author does. So when you are reading, don’t feel obliged to read the words precisely as written. Abridge long sentences, swap to simpler more understandable words, and drop in extra commentary and explanations (as well as sound effects) as needed.
  • Concentrate on the illustrations. If the text of a story isn’t engaging your tot. Ask questions like “Where’s the dog?” or “What’s on the cat’s head?” Feel free to skip the monotone narration and channel your inner drama queen (or king). A lively and animated delivery will get your budding readers attention a lot faster and, ideally, keep it just a little bit longer.
  • Make it interactive. When reading to your little one, choose sturdy books that are “touch-and-feel,” come with dials to turn, make noises, or have surprises hiding under little flaps so that reading becomes a hands-on activity.
  • Ditch the lap. If your bundle of energy is too squirmy to sit on your lap, let him sit — and wriggle — beside you on the sofa or even play nearby on the floor. There’s a good chance he’ll still be listening even if his eyes aren’t on the book.
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