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Help your toddler love reading

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Recently, I was prepping my son for a bath and I said to him excitedly: “Do you mind if I sit here on the bathmat and read while you play with your boats? I’m almost at the end of my book and I can’t wait to find out what happens!”

I didn’t think about what I was doing at the time (if anything I felt a little guilty not joining in bath conversation as usual), but there was something nice about that message: I was telling my son that I get giddy and excited about reading.

We’ve all heard that reading with our little ones is important. Sitting down to flip pages and talk to your toddler helps with vocabulary and letter knowledge, gets her in the habit of reading, and forms positive associations around books. If that routine is consistent and fun, it’s more likely she’ll enjoy reading as a preschooler. From there the sky is the limit, since older preschoolers are starting to pick up independent reading skills.

There can be more to it than just snuggling with stories before bed, though. If you’re thinking about boosting reading in your home, consider these angles:

  • Beyond bedtime: The most popular time to read is before bed. It’s perfect for bedtime routine because it helps your child wind down and it’s a great opportunity to connect before sleep. But think about reading outside of the bedtime routine and making books one of your daytime activity options in the house. When books are just for bedtime, they can get lost in the shuffle, especially when you’re tight on time. The goal is that your kid doesn’t feel rushed or just associate reading with lights out.

  • Look at your own habits: If you want your child to eat vegetables, it’s probably a good idea to eat them yourself. Same with reading. Your child’s brain is programmed to take on habits she sees in you, and the more normal and frequent your own reading activity (and your enthusiasm about it) the more likely she’ll gravitate to it.

  • Memories and feelings: If reading isn’t a go-to activity in your house, or you’re doing it but not enjoying it very much, think about your own feelings and experiences with reading. Was it a fun pastime in your house growing up? Did you feel pressure around it? Do you have memories of your parents sitting down to read with you or tell you stories, or were you more of an independent reader? There’s a lot of opportunity to connect with your child around reading. If you’re not that pumped about it, it’s worth checking out what feelings you’re bringing to the table.

  • Make a reading nook: Set up a comfy place in your child’s room with a little chair or floor pillows and a bookshelf.

  • Keep up with your toddler’s reading level: For example, if you think your toddler has moved on from the simple picture books of the first year, see if you can introduce books with more story to them. The simple picture books are easy for your toddler to enjoy on her own, so you may not want to get rid of them completely. But when you’re getting ready to read to her yourself, gather a few storybooks for her to choose from. Likewise, with older kids, keep around the “easier” favorites you know they might return to on their own even as you introduce the more challenging books.

  • Respect the repetition: On the flip side, you don’t have to change books just to keep things new and fresh. Little kids are pattern-seekers, and they like repetition. If your toddler wants to read the same book every night it might be that she’s working on an important concept – let her show you where her interest is.

  • Libraries: A lot of public libraries and bookstores have reading programs for babies and young kids. Plan regular outings to attend the programs and spend time looking through the books in the library before or after.

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