Early Reading: Tips For Parents To Teaching Toddlers To Read

Looking for ways to get your toddler hooked on to books? Here are some tried and tested tips from a mom who surrounds her children with books.

By Meghna Singhal  • 6 min read

Early Reading: Tips For Parents To Teaching Toddlers To Read

On a particularly breezy Saturday morning, my two-year-old and I reached the hospital early for our scheduled paediatric visit. As we settled in to wait, I looked around. A few children were sleeping, a couple of them were crying and one was running around. What about the others? No prizes for guessing. They were hunched over a mobile device, lost in the world of fast animation and digital sound.

Undeterred, I went about my routine. I fished out a few of my son’s favourite books from his diaper bag – ‘Blueberries for Sal’, ‘My Mother’s Sari’, ‘The Tiger who came to Tea’, and his all-time favourite ‘The Magic Rolling Pin’. I saw his eyes light up. As I started reading to him, complete with exaggerated hand movements and funny sing-song voices, a few children looked up. Propelled by their curiosity, a few others came and sat next to my son. In no time, the paediatric waiting room was transformed into a magical kingdom, with reindeers, tigers, ghosts, and unicorns leaping about. When I glanced at my watch, I was not surprised that 30 minutes had gone by just like that, and it was our turn to go in.

Engaging a toddler with a book is not hard. Their vivid imagination and the swiftness with which the story (or rhyme) catches their attention makes reading to them easy and enjoyable!

If you’re thinking it’s easier said than done, I am here to help you. Let us look at some strategies to get your active toddler interested in the world of books.

Getting started

  • Start early: Introduce your child to books at a very early age. You can start as early as six months or even three months! Surround your child with books, so that they feel that reading books is a natural activity, not one that is forced or imposed. You could enrol for membership in a library, borrow pre-loved books from friends, or buy books online.
  • Introduce books of different types: Toddlers like looking at books with big colourful pictures that they can point to. They also like books with pop-ups, pull-tabs, or flaps. Introduce them to touch-and-feel books, which have different textures, and aid your toddler’s sensory development. There are also board books that are easy for your toddler to hold and cloth and tear-safe books. Sound books and sticker books are also attractive to children this age.
  • Make it a daily ritual: Make reading a part of your daily routine. Pick a time when your child is rested but alert. Could you read to your toddler during bath time? In the car? In the park? On the bus or train? Or in the doctor’s waiting room? The one answer to all these questions is YES. Anytime is a good time for a story.
  • Ensure a cosy reading environment: A lot of seasoned parents create cosy reading corners for their children at home. All it takes is a rug, some colourful cushions or a comfortable bolster. Having said that, really any place in your home is a good place to read!

Making it engaging

Sing or enact: Read slowly and clearly, singing a part of the story or enacting it out with gestures or movements. Encourage your child to mimic your actions or sing along with you.

  • Cater to your child’s preferences: Choose books about things your child likes. For example, some children are fond of trains, others of animals. Link the characters and events to your child’s life to make it personally meaningful to her. Nishtha Sharma Pareek, mother of a 16-month old, from Mumbai, says “I show my son daily-use objects or animals in a book regularly. That helps him identify those objects and animals in real life. This gets him more interested in reading, because he can connect what he sees in a book to what he sees around him.”
  • Keep it short: Toddlers have shorter attention spans. Pick books that are short and simple. Don’t expect your child to sit still; let him skip, tumble, or rock as you read to him. He may be moving, but he is listening.
  • Allow your child to choose: Toddlers like to do things on their own. Encourage your child to choose from three to four books in a pile. Praise her choice and let her turn the pages.
  • Ask questions: Engage your child by asking a variety of questions – ‘why is the boy crying?’, ‘what is the baby eating?’, ‘where is the honeybee?’ and so on. This will keep your child engaged while also getting him to think.
  • Read yourself: ‘Monkey see, monkey do’ couldn’t be more applicable in the case of toddlers. When your child sees you read (it could be anything – newspapers, magazines, or books), more likely he will read too! 
Early Reading: Tips For Parents To Teaching Toddlers To Read


“My child asks me to read the same story over and over again.”

Reading the same book repeatedly may seem boring to you, but not for the little ones. In fact, doing so will help in your child’s language development. Studies have shown that repetition aids in learning complex information (including novel words). So, read whatever your toddler asks, even if it’s the same book for weeks and weeks. Try to focus on something new at each retelling.

“My child doesn’t sit through the entire story.”

Toddlers’ attention spans are low. Also, sitting isn’t a priority for them. They explore their world by moving about. “But just because they won’t sit still doesn’t mean they don’t like reading,” says Rachel Norman, a parenting coach and blogger. She suggests summarising the story for your child after letting her pick the book.

Some helpful tips

Here are some things you can try, to initiate the reading habit in your child:

  • Read to your child after tucking him to bed.
  • Start with a short story and gradually increase the length and number of books, as their concentration improves.
  • Read to your toddler in the bath. Let your toddler splash, scoop, and pour water while listening to you read.
  • Try active books, where your child can act it out. Some wonderful interactive books are Press Here by Herve Tullet, Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle, Gallop! by Rufus Butler Seder, Is Everyone Ready for Fun? by Jan Thomas, and Little Yoga by Rebecca Whitford.
  • Keep going and be consistent.
Early Reading: Tips For Parents To Teaching Toddlers To Read

Soon, you will be pleasantly surprised to see your toddler happily exploring the world of books. Happy Reading! 

Also read:

How to teach your preschooler 3-5 years to read

Fun prereading activities for your toddler

How to raise a reader

About the author:

Written by Meghna Singhal, PhD on February, 2020.

Dr. Singhal is a clinical psychologist and Parenting Coach at ParentCircle. She has a doctorate degree in clinical psychology from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia).

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