How To Read With Your Toddler

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You know that reading books with toddlers and children is so important and introducing books to them early in life is crucial.  According to, it’s recommended you can start exposing your child to books as early as birth!  But are you getting frustrated that your child isn’t attending to books, or doesn’t really seem interested in them? 

First let’s take a look at what type of books you are exposing your child to.

I personally like to recommend what I call “interactive books.”  What does that mean?  It means presenting your child with books they can engage with in a fun way.  Touch and feel books like the That’s Not My brand, peek-a-book books, poke-a-dot books 8 Silly Monkeys and 10 Little Lady Bugs are great ways to have your child get excited about books.

Make sure the books you are sharing with your child are age appropriate.  

If you are exposing your toddler to a paperback book with a lot of words in it, you will most likely end up with ripped pages or them walking away.  Board books are perfect for this age group. The pages are hard and typically the words and sentences on each page are short.  Some of the peek-a-books can be ripped, so I recommend adult supervision when your toddler is reading those books. Rhyming books like Moo-Baa-LaLaLa and Bath, Bath, Bath are also great for toddlers. Sometimes it’s good to go back to basics with books like Goodnight Gorilla.  This book only has the words “Goodnight (animal)” in it!  It gives you the opportunity to make up the story as you go.  Some other great starter books are ones that have one picture or one word on the page such as the Bright Baby collection.

If you are starting to introduce books with your infant, I recommend soft books such as cloth books.  Infants and toddlers typically continue to put items in their mouth until approximately the age of 18 months when teething usually subsides.  As your child becomes older, these books are great to use during your bath time routines as well.

Try to avoid books with batteries as an interactive book. 

These books typically have a side panel of buttons and that matching picture in the book. The goal is that the child finds the matching button from a picture in the book and pushes it. Sounds like a good concept right? However, I have found in my experience,  more often than not, the child fixates on the button and just keeps pushing it forgetting that there is even a book there. You’ll get much more functional interaction from your child if you try to limit the use of books with batteries.

Next let’s take a look at how often you read a specific book.  Are you reading the same book repeatedly or reading it once and not coming back to it for a while?

Children need to be exposed to the same task, or in this case book, REPEATEDLY in order to learn it.  If you are just introducing it to them once, it is easier for them to walk away and be disengaged.  After you expose your child to a rhyming book for an extended time, you can eventually try to drop off some words to see if your child says it. For example. in the book Goodnight Moon, there is a page that says “Good night kittens and goodnight mittens.”  Eventually you can leave off the word “mittens” to see if your child tries to say the word or make the sound.  

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Do you have too many books available for your child?

You don’t need an elaborate library for your child as having too many options can lead to overstimulation.  Instead, you can leave some books out for a couple of weeks at a time and only focus on the select few. Store the other books away and rotate your book library every 3-4 weeks. You can also leave a few books out in different sections in your house and move those books around too. Don’t forget about your local library! Check out 4-5 books at a time and only focus on those books during the weeks you have them.


Finally, are you focusing on reading all of the words in the book because that is the “right” way to do it?

Instead, try pointing and labeling pictures in the book. If there is a picture of a cat, keep it simple and say “cat” or “meow,” and then you can turn the page. Reading the book this way will meet your child’s attention span and keep them engaged with the book in a different way. You can also follow their lead. If they are looking or pointing to a picture, label what that is. You can label nouns, colors, or just describe what you see.  Try to avoid “quizzing” your child too much as well by asking them “What is this? What is that?  Where is the ____?”  If they don’t know what the items are or understand you, both you and your child are going to become frustrated.  Just focus on labeling the pictures and getting your child involved in books.  Another option is to say the phrase “I see ____.”  You can either fill in the blank by saying a word such as “I see cat,” or you can say “I see” and then pause for a few seconds.  Pausing allows your child to fill in the blank with words or sounds that THEY are able to say instead of the parent expecting  their child to say a specific item in the book and it is more open ended.

Feel free to also read with your child in different positions.  You can sit in front of your child as this will encourage eye contact and they can look at how your mouth moves when you say a word.  You can sit with your child in your lap, on the couch or even have your child engage in tummy time while looking at books while laying on the floor. 


If you have an active child, you can hide touch and feel flashcards around the house and have your child engage in a gross motor activity such as running, crawling or jumping to go pick them up.  You can do hand over hand assistance with your child to point to the pictures while you label them and help your child put them back in the container or box.

When should you be concerned?

If your child is over the age of one and they are not really looking at or pointing to pictures, they seem disengaged, they only want to repeatedly flip the pages without stopping to look at what is on the page, or they frequently “hand lead” while looking at the pages, then this might be an area of concern.  If you ever have any concerns with your child’s overall development, always reach out to your child’s pediatrician. 


Children ages birth to three, are so new to the world and they want to learn everything.  Remember to be patient, have fun, and just focus on bonding with your child during story time.

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