As an educator who works with struggling readers, I’m often asked what parents can do to help. In these moments, I wish I could rewind the clock to when their children were toddlers. The earlier kids understand that the print around them holds meaning, the sooner they typically experience reading success.
We want children to develop a positive relationship with books (and learning) long before they enter a classroom. Here are five simple ways to help instill a love of reading.
1. Surround Your Child With Books
There is a wide variety of board and soft books available for toddlers. The most engaging ones typically feature rhymes, textures and bright colours or flaps to grab and hold their attention. Place easy-to-reach books around your house and stash a few in your diaper bag for on-the-go reading.
Jon Rogers of Kelowna, B.C., has been reading to his boys, Linden, 5, and 23-month-old Asher, since they were babies. “Now, Asher brings books to us during the day,” Rogers says, noting his youngest likes board books best.
2. Start a Reading Routine
Along with bedtime reading, look for times of the day—for example, before or after naptime—when your child seems more responsive to books. While reading, be sure to vary your inflections, talk about the pictures and the story, point to objects on the page and make connections to your little one’s life.
Capitalize on even a few moments of attention. Julie Parnell, Halifax-based mom of 21-month-old Katelyn, says, “Sometimes we only get through two or three pages of a book and she says ‘All done.’ We follow her lead and pick up the next one.”
3. Create Comfortable Reading Spaces
I often see students reading in unusual places: under the teacher’s desk, in a doorway or propped up against a bookshelf. At home, a basket of books placed alongside a few pillows or a pint-size chair and a snuggly blanket are all it takes to create a favourite spot where your toddler can curl up with a good book. A big comfy chair is ideal for reading together.
4. Choose Literacy-Based Toys
Some simple toys offer a fun introduction to early literacy skills, including letter identification and basic word concepts.
Traditional wooden blocks for babies and toddlers are often decorated with the letters of the alphabet. Make your play interactive by pointing out the letters: “Look! Here is a D. Your name begins with D. Let’s put the D on top of the tower.” Though it is the parent initially identifying the letters, this process will help children understand that letters hold meaning and eventually recognize letters on their own.
Older toddlers will enjoy throwing, passing and balancing the beanbags (look for a sturdy version suitable for this age). Try calling out the letters as your child jumps over the beanbags on the floor. Or help your child arrange the beanbags to spell words: “M-O-M spells ‘mom.’”
Choose large-piece puzzles that are concept based (e.g., numbers, letters, colours) or connected to favourite authors, such as Eric Carle or Dr. Seuss. Puzzles require children to pay attention to details, such as shape and colour. This skill is important for beginning readers as they learn to identify letters and words.
You may also be interested in our Top 5 Skill-Building Toys for Your Toddler
5. Set An Example
Reading—on your own, as a family or even to an older child—sends a powerful message. It demonstrates that reading is both enjoyable and purposeful. If you have more than one child, be sure to carve out individual time when each can be the focus of your attention.
By making literacy part of your everyday life, you naturally encourage your kids to do the same. Lyndsey Peacocke, a Kindergarten teacher in Edmonton, suggests “providing books and experiences, talking to your children, taking them to libraries and pointing out print wherever you go.”
As a parent, you have a wonderful opportunity to influence your child’s relationship with books and learning. Skip the formal lessons and rigorous instruction; if you make the experiences fun, the learning will be incidental.
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