How does an almost two- year-old “read”? What does such a tiny child “read”? How can we encourage the reading habit in such a tike?
I spent a week in early September with a 21-month-old who wanted me to “read” to him many times daily. He taught me:
Toddlers love to hold books, turn their pages, point to objects they recognize and name those words.
They do not like to be read paragraph-long passages.
They do like to be read text if it is short. “Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?” is an example of text that works. Single syllable words, words the child knows, words which are repeated, tiny sentences—these hold a child’s interest just long enough before he wants to turn the page.
Pint-sized cardboard books are easy for a toddler to hold. The pages are easy to turn. And the cardboard is able to withstand the rough handling that a tiny child gives.
“Reading” often means “studying” a picture to discover what it holds. “Balloon!” he might shout, or “Piggy eat.”
Order of pages is arbitrary to a tiny child. Sometimes he will prefer to skip some pages to head right for the picture he prefers. Sometimes he will flip back and forth, making a connection between one page and another. For example, he might find the moon on one page and then go back to a previous page to find the moon there.
Simple drawings are best. Bright colors with plain backgrounds help the child to focus.
Animals—especially baby animals with their mothers—fascinate many children. But one time an adult horse might be a “mommy” and another time that same image is a “daddy.” There’s no need to correct.
Touchable books captivate toddlers. A child eagerly strokes books with inserted fabric for a sandpapery pig’s nose or a furry dog’s ear. Books with flaps are fun to open even if the child has opened the same flap many times. Books with cutouts—like the holes that the Hungry Caterpillar eats—are just the right size for a little one to stick his finger into.
Many times, you, the adult, needn’t read a word. Rather you might wait for the child to take the lead. He might point to a picture and say a word. You might repeat his word to show you are listening or to offer correct pronunciation.
Many times all he wants is for you to listen, to share his reading time without distraction. By being willing to focus only on him, to listen wholeheartedly, you teach the child that you value what he is doing. Your unhurried presence tells the child that this activity—reading—is important.