Did you know that only 45 percent of toddlers are read to on a daily basis? The National Center for Education Statistics points out that children under the poverty line are the most at risk; only 28 percent are read to regularly. While it might not sound like a big deal—after all, most toddlers can't even read—fostering a love of learning in early childhood could have a bearing on your child's reading ability later on in life.
If you understand the importance of raising a reader, you know that your efforts need to start now. But how do you justify the importance of reading against battling it out with a wiggly toddler who would rather play with his cars? Knowing how to interest your toddler in books and reading makes all the difference on the road to raising a child whole loves nothing more than to settle with a good book.
0-6 Months: Start Small
Your infant obviously isn't ready to start reading the complete works of Shakespeare, which is why you need to begin with short, colorful, interactive books. Melissa Lowry, education expert and founder of education consulting firm SmartyPantz Education, suggests picture books. "Use picture (without words) and early reader books to promote your child's language development," she urges. "Ask your child questions about the pictures, even if his response is one word or babbling. Encouraging your child to be active in the process will increase her interest, help him develop critical thinking skills and help him develop a strong vocabulary."
6-12 Months: Foster the Habit
You know all of those bedtime struggles you have? You know, where your baby won't go to sleep and makes sure you don't either? Books can be part of the solution. By making reading part of a soothing bedtime routine, you increase your baby's exposure to books while helping him to calm down before bed. Select books that have touch-and-feel pages and plenty of colors, but not electronic noises. By making reading a daily activity, it becomes a habit that your infant loves and looks forward to every day. The few minutes you get to sit down and read can become a relaxing ritual for both of you. Well, at least until the bedtime battle starts again.
12 to 18 Months: Make it Fun
It's time to test out your pipes when reading books aloud: kids love when you change your voice for the different characters. If your squirmy toddler can't sit still to get through a book, making the process more fun with hand gestures, different voices and facial expressions can help reel him back in. Early childhood education expert and pediatric psychologist, Kim Har, Ph.D., suggests getting involved with the reading process. "As children enter their toddler years, parents should point to and name pictures as well as each word as it is spoken aloud, so that children begin to expand their vocabulary and also grasp some of the beginning principals of reading such as directionality of text (left to right)." Don't be afraid to test out different voices as you get involved; you might feel a little silly, but your toddler probably thinks you're the best actor since Elmo.
18 to 24 Months: Library Love
Once your toddler has hit the terrible two's, it's even more vital that you keep reading as a daily activity. If bedtime reading at home isn't enough to capture his attention, call up your local library—chances are they have a toddler or preschool story hour. Hearing another person read might be enough to get your child excited to go. Give him free range to pick out a few books from the shelves, so he doesn't get tired of the same old books at home—look specifically for characters that he knows and loves, like the Mo Willems "Pigeon" series or the "Llama, Llama" books by Anna Dewden. They follow the same characters so they seem familiar even though they're unfamiliar stories. Har agrees, pointing out that you shouldn't be afraid of rereading old favorites. "Reread preferred books as many times as possible," she suggests. "Children benefit from the repetition and feel a sense of accomplishment when they are able to predict and say aloud what is going to happen next in the story."
Reading shouldn't be all on your toddler's shoulders, either. Make sure that you always have a book, newspaper or other type of print media on-hand for yourself. Your little one is small, but he recognizes behavior patterns from his parents, so join a book club, read a series, whatever it takes to keep your nose in a book too!
As always, you can't force your child to love something. Even if you were a voracious reader as a child, your own flesh and blood might be more of an on-the-go type. If that's the case, books on tape or shorter magazine stories might capture his attention more. Just do what it takes to keep print media around your toddler and slowly but surely, you'll be raising a reader.