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Getting a Toddler to Read

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We all know how important it is to read to children. I'm sure most of you read to your children often. It's much easier to read at bedtime when those little tornados are tired. And sometimes getting a toddler to slow down during daylight can be almost impossible. Giving your toddler the skills to take a reading break during daylight hours is not only good for them; it can be a lifesaver for you. Many of the strategies I use in the classroom can be incorporated at home and make story time more fun for everyone.

Short and sweet: The attention span of a toddler is short and so is your window of opportunity. Little Miss Antsy Pants can't be expected to sit forever. Toddlers like simple. Look for books that don't have a lot of words but do have a lot of pictures. They gravitate toward books with great illustrations. And be sure to stick with age appropriate subject matter.

Song and Rhyme: Try singing the story to a simple well known tune. For instance, singing Brown Bear, Brown Bear to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Nothing captures their attention quicker than a catchy melody. Read simple books that are songs. The Wheels on the Bus or If You're Happy and You Know It are just two examples that are classroom favorites. Children enjoy stories that rhyme. Books like Jamberry or The Barnyard Dance are fun to repeat and easy to memorize. Most tots feel a sense of accomplishment when they can "read" along from memory.

Tools: Finger puppets, felt boards and toys are all tools teachers use to help tell a story. Animated facial expressions and character voices are surprisingly helpful. It's tough competing with the likes of Elmo and iPad. Coming up with a creative way to tell a story can save the day. I have a stash of puppets and toys that go with the stories I read. These "friends" come out of my special bag or pocket of my apron only at story time. Reading capes, magic story wands, silly hats or giant reading glasses make the transition from playtime to story time a breeze.
Location, Location, Location: Create a change of scenery and read somewhere new. For instance, drape a blanket over a couple of chairs and read a short story by flashlight in your "fort". Go on a treasure hunt following clues that lead you to a "treasure book". Following animal tracks to a book like Going on a Bear Hunt becomes an adventure. Changing the venue for story time magically increases the attention span of a toddler.

Library time: At nursery school we have a routine which includes circle time, snack time and library time. Part of circle time is set aside for a book read to the entire group. Library time is for children to read by themselves. Children like routine and knowing what to expect. It's helpful to have some kind of routine at home and incorporating a "Library Time" can be especially helpful for moms who need a little quiet time.

Repetition works: So you've read Dr. Seuss a million times? Good. Children find comfort in repetition. They want to know the story inside and out. Repetition and the comfort it provides spurs the confidence of little readers. Once Little Miss Antsy Pants feels like she knows the story she just might snuggle up and take turns reading the book with you (she reads a line, you read a line). When you read this way you easily reinforce positive skills like taking turns, sharing, patience and confidence. Once she is comfortable with the story she progresses to independence and you will hear a little voice say, "I do it by myself". She will want to hold the book, turn the pages and read out loud to you.

Reap the benefits: Reading aloud to your children increases their vocabulary and exposes them to learning in a fun creative way. You will be developing skills like relaxing, sitting, listening, storytelling, memory, communicating and thinking. Reading benefits language and enunciation skills. Children need to hear and practice words and sounds. Ask questions and have a conversation with your toddler about what you've read. You will be delighted by what they've learned and amazed at the information a toddler can retain. Kids are smart! Watching them read to stuffed animals or toys while pretending to be Mommy or Daddy is quite entertaining. My students like to role play and take turns being the teacher. The other day one of my more animated students parroted "Tap, tap, tap, clap, clap, clap, fold your hands and put them in your lap" (which is what we say at circle time to get ready for the story). "Now eyes on me" she added with hand gestures and voice inflection.

There have been numerous studies on the benefits of parents reading to children. It comes as no surprise children who are read to at home have a greater advantage in school and life. The bottom line is that you want to introduce reading to children at an early age so that they can develop a lifelong love of reading. It not only creates a great foundation for learning, it helps you create a strong parent/child bond. Reading is fun and special quality time with your little one is priceless. Your child will always have fond memories of "story time with Mommy or Daddy" and so will you.

Listed below are some favorite books we've read in my classroom this month.
Way Down Deep in the Deep Blue Sea, by Jan Peck, illustrated by Valeria Petrone
The Pout Pout Fish, by Deborah Diesen, pictures by Dan Hanna
Hooray for Fish! by Lucy Cousins
Into the A, B, Sea, by Deborah Lee Rose, pictures by Steve Jenkins
Do Whales Have Wings? by Michael Dahl, illustrated by Sandra D' Antonio

Rebecca Douglas works as a nursery school teacher, freelance writer and blogger Twos2Teens@blogspot.com. She has a B.S. in Advertising/Public Relations from the School of Journalism at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Rebecca lives with her husband and three children in Minnesota.

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Categories:  Parenting Tips|Blog

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