Getting a toddler to choose their own book to read is how they get hooked on reading, for life. As parents, we’re in control of what books we buy for our toddlers, so how do we find the right books, and empower our kids to love reading?
We all have an ideal – our child curled up on a rainy day with a book, or reading under the duvet with a torch – and that ideal is crucial: When our kids to choose to read for fun we know that reading is an ingrained habit that becomes part of who they are.
9 out of 10 kids say that that their favourite books are the ones they’ve picked out for themselves.
We know too that reading for fun has a more serious purpose: It’s how they’ll do well at school and enjoy life, and as author Alan Gibbons says:
“Ask any good classroom practitioner what makes a child ready and eager to learn and reading for pleasure comes high on the list. A reading child is, quite simply, a successful child.” Reading for Pleasure, National Union of Teachers.
How can we get our toddlers on the path of reading for for fun?
- Simply reading together, every day.
- Finding out what books interest them: Having a wide selection
- Let toddlers choose what they read
Why your toddler needs to find the right book for themselves
Step 1: Get into the habit of reading every day
It’s been very well documented: Reading together, and reading aloud, right from the earliest days of babyhood is the best start to reading you can give. Literacy organisation, Reach Out and Read produces lots of research to show that babies who are read to have better listening skills, better vocabulary and that the habit of reading is ingrained, before they get to the stroppy toddler stage. Read Aloud has a great infographic to show the benefits of reading to your baby and toddler.
You can read anything to them; the newspaper, the shopping list, it doesn’t have to be just baby books. Your baby is delighted to hear your voice, and you can start reading to your baby when they are just a few weeks old, and keep going. 1000 Books Before Kindergarten recommends we do just that: Read 1,000 books to your toddler before they start school. Routes to Reading has lots of tips on what to do if your baby keeps crawling away! Persistence is key!
Step 2: Finding the right books for your toddler
There are lots of recommended book lists you can turn to for inspiration. Literacy organisation Booktrust has a great Bookfinder where you can choose a list that’s right for your child’s age by different themes such as funny, inclusive or family life. Or to find a recommendation for exactly your toddler’s age, Routes to Reading lists books they recommend for 6, 7 or 8 months, right up to 36 months, which you can buy directly from them. Author James Patterson also has some great book lists by age ranges, including picture books for ages 0-8 on his ReadKiddoRead site.
The sorts of books toddlers enjoy have interesting illustrations with details to point out and talk about. They are best with not too much text, so that your toddler won’t start to lose concentration before they can turn the next page. Repetition within the story, and rhyming are great ways for toddlers to predict the story so that they can join in. As Carol Quick points out in KidsHealth, toddlers want to feel included and competent in everything they do.
Find books in your local library. The librarian has done the hard work of creating a toddler friendly selection, and you may find there is a wider choice than that in a mainstream bookshop. Or organise a swap with friends.
If you can, create your toddler’s own home library. How Kids Develops has a useful checklist of the sorts of books to include.
Step 3: Let toddlers choose what they read
Giving your toddler the choice of what to read is embeds the idea that reading is for fun. Teacher and writer, Melissa Taylor says: Parents discourage their kids from reading by not letting them choose their books. Don’t be overly concerned if your toddler chooses books you don’t like or don’t’ think are ‘good’ books.
Try not to say no, even if the book looks like it is for an older child: Let your toddler discover for themselves, or be prepared to paraphrase the hard bits. Be prepared too, to read the same book over and over again if your toddler wants it. ReadWriteThink has some sound tips on helping your child to take charge of choosing a book.
“Let children choose their own books, from an appropriate selection. This helps build a lifelong love of reading.” Building Blocks US Dept Health and Human Services
Parents do a great job of encouraging reading for fun, to let kids browse and choose. These are some of the ideas that came to light in Scholastic’s survey: Over half of parents said they let their child choose from a book fair, or let them browse in a library or to make suggestions of books they might like.
“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” Maya Angelou
Toddlers like to choose books without you too, and creating their own library at home will make them feel in charge of their books and reading. When its not story-time, put books within easy reach of your toddler. It helps maintain their sense of independence, and helps build up their love of books.
Invest in a kids bookcase that makes it easy for your toddler to pick out the book they want. Tidy Books makes a range of kids bookcases designed to make books attractive to toddlers as they show the books’ front covers, and make books easy to access independently.
As this expert says of Tidy Books:
“This quality piece of furniture is both a practical storage solution and a learning vehicle offering children easy access to their favourite books …The experience is multi-sensory and three dimensional: they can see and recognise the cover images, browse, touch and read….Giving words and images a firm place in your house, your children learn to appreciate the importance and fun of literacy and books at an early and crucial stage in their lives.” Dr. Klaus-Dieter Rossade, Faculty of Education and Language Studies The Open University.
What would you add to that that list? Feel free to share anything you find works well in getting your toddler to love books.
If you want to delve in further, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) also monitors the level of reading ability of member nations, and highlights reading for pleasure as a key indicator to determine academic success through its PISA study
Research study on independent reading and school achievement levels: http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslpubsandjournals/slr/vol3/SLMR_IndependentReading_V3.pdf