Some one-year-olds are ready to be read to, and some two-year-olds are not yet ready. But most are. Reading to a two-year-old can be fun and educational for the child, and subconsciously, prepare the child for more sophisticated reading.
Two-year-olds are all about physical motion, so reading to them should include movement. You could start with board books, and ask the child to tell you what he sees. He might say, “Baby.” Probe a bit. “What is the baby doing? Show me.” Even if he can’t put into words the baby’s actions, he might be able to act them out. Helen Oxenbury’s books are great for children who cannot speak yet.
His physical needs might include holding the book and turning the pages. He will learn to turn pages correctly if you help him. But he will want to go back and forth. He might see a dog on page eight and remember seeing the dog on an earlier page, and he might flip the pages to find the dog. Don’t expect formal sequencing of pages with a two-year-old.
Some books for young children have textured parts for the child to touch. Others have flaps that open and close, or they offer pop-up parts that unfold. Little children love these books, but roddlers tend to rip the pages. Beware. They love to move things in a trial-or-error way to see what happens. Yet their touch is usually not delicate.
You might start reading a picture book and the child might interrupt, pointing to a picture and talking about it. He might not care for the story yet, but he might be fascinated by the pictures. Don’t think that just because there are words you must read them. Let the child guide you. If he doesn’t want you to read, look for some wordless books or just discuss the pictures. Most wordless books are intended for toddlers. They are also great for older ESL students new to English.
Two-year-olds are acquiring language rapidly. If you point to a picture and say “bug” or “triangle,” the child might remember the new word. Two-year-olds are also picking up grammar, so be sure you use grammar correctly, even if the child doesn’t. You don’t need to correct him most of the time. By hearing you say grammar correctly, he will eventually say sentences correctly.
I remember my preschoolers choosing the same books over and over. I was bored reading them repeatedly, but they weren’t. Children find it comforting to hear, day after day, how the little bird found its mother or how Sylvester returned to his family.
Nursery rhymes are great for the littlest readers. Some, like “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider” and “This Little Piggy,” encourage finger or toe play. You can tell the child enjoys nursery rhymes when he starts doing the finger play himself. Plus, children love rhymes, anticipate them, and race to complete the rhyme. Rhymes teach children about word families (spout, out; rain, again), too.
You might use reading to a toddler to establish routines, such as what you and your child do before or after a nap.
If there are older children, you might want to read to them at a different time, since a two-year-old’s abilities are quite different from a four- or five-year-old’s. On the other hand, a patient toddler might pick up reading skills and vocabulary by listening to his older sibling read with you.
So should you read to a two-year-old? Definitely, but keep in mind the abilities of a child that age.