Reading to Toddlers

Last week, I wrote about Reading to Infants. Today I want to build on that and discuss some of the unique points of reading to toddlers. This post contains affiliate links. In the book The Read-Aloud Handbook, author Jim Trelease aptly says, “This stage is called ‘labeling the environment.’ ” (page 53) If you have or have had a toddler, you know this is so true. Toddlers want to know what everything is called.


What to Read

Because toddlers like to label things, picture books of things are great for this age group. The books with just pictures that you can point at and name will hold a lot of interest for your child. Point at it as you read and label it. Ask your child, “Can you say ball?” and praise any effort your child gives to say ball. My toddlers have all loved looking at animal books, 


“This is a lion. Can you say lion?” Wait for response

“That’s right! Lion. The lion says Roar! Can you say roar?” Wait for response

“Very good. Roar!”


As the child gets older, rather than introducing the animal or object first, you just ask, “What is this?” as you point. Then go on, “That’s right! It is a lion. What does the lion say?” If you are looking at a page with a lot of objects, you can say, “Where is the ball? Can you touch the ball?” I know a lot of our time reading books with the toddlers is spent just labeling objects and not so much reading the “story” written in the book if there is a story, especially with the more 14-30ish month age range.

Some of my favorite books for this age range are:

When my children have been close to 18 months old, I have made them a “quiet book.” These are books I have either scrapbooked the “old fashioned way” or printed off digitally. For Brinley, I made the books with Shutterfly and that was very easy. Here are some samples:

This has been a favorite book for all of my children.


As your child goes from about 2.5 up to 3–so approaching preschooler age–your child will start to have more of an interest in books with a simple story line attached to it. Read books that are of interest to your child. If your child loves animals, find animal books. If your child loves trucks, find truck books. Here are some we have liked:


Read the Book Over and Over (and over) Again

“Prior to age two, repeated readings of fewer books is better than a huge collection read infrequently” (page 54). When my first two children were in this age range, we really did not have a vast collection of books to read from. We had 10-20 books total that we read from. Brayden and Kaitlyn are now 10 and 8 and their reading scores are off the charts. 


I remember reading those books over and over. I can still read any one of those books without actually reading the words when I read them to Brinley. They are burned on the back of my eyelids–I know the stories that well. As a two year old, Brayden could “read” a longer Clifford story himself with out mistakes because he had it memorized. I know it can be as boring as can be to read the same thing over and over, but do it anyway. Children are learning a whole entire language. It will take them time and repetition to pick up on things from books. Repeat, repeat, repeat. And don’t feel like you need a huge library. Choose some high quality books to own and be content with that. Every once in a while, you can go to the library and expand the book pool, but don’t feel like you have to. 


Answer Questions

“Don’t destroy natural curiosity by ignoring it” (page 55). While we have the saying, “There is no such thing as a dumb question,” we adults don’t often treat questions with much patience or kindness. Reward curiosity! All children are curious. Asking questions is a sign of intelligence. Foster that. 


At the end of the book, you can answer any questions your child may have. If a question is pertinent to understanding the story, answer it immediately. If the question is better discussed at the end of the book, tell your child you will come back to it once the story is done and then do so. 


Rhyming Books are Still Important

Rhythm and rhyme are good for infants, and the same is true for toddlers. Again, go for simple plot lines starting about age 2.5. Predictable rhyming books are great (“I do not like them, Sam I Am!”). 


Read as Much as You Can

When Brayden was young, I was pregnant a lot. I got pregnant when he was six months old. I lost that baby when he was 11 months old and I got pregnant again at 13 months old. I was tired and sick. He was a busy little boy like boys are. I loved books because he would be willing to sit still so I could read to him. We read a lot. 


Have Patience

Not all children will just naturally love to sit and read books. If your child is like that, work on it over time. Sense when you should push sitting still and when you should just be content with letting your child listen as you read and the child plays nearby. 


When, Where, and How to Read

Have a consistent time of day that you will read no matter what, but fit in more time when you can. We read before nap and before bedtime each day. We will then add in other times some times. 


We read in a certain spot each time. Brinley used to have a chair in her room that we sat in, but we removed it to trade it for a doll house. I now just sit on the floor. You could read on the couch in the family room. You can consider reading in the bed if it is a toddler bed, but I like reading, ending, and then going to bed. I used to read to Brayden in his bed and it made for 60-90 minute reading sessions. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but not a practical thing day to day. 


Read with enthusiasm–don’t be grumpy about it. Read clearly and slowly enough for your child to understand what you are saying. Talk about pictures. Have some interest in your voice–don’t be monotone. 


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