The Importance of Reading to Babies & Toddlers

Some of my favorite memories from when my children where small, is snuggling together at the end of the day and reading stories. Reading to babies and toddlers was always an important part of my day.

Young woman reading book for little baby in evening at home

Even now that they are bigger, we still like to snuggle down on my bed all together and read a few chapters. Although it’s not a daily event anymore, it’s still just as special.

My kids might be too big for their nightly “Gruffalo” tale, but my twin sister has 2 adorable girls who are the perfect age. No, they really are the most adorable girls, I’m not a biased auntie, I promise!

When my sister’s eldest daughter, Lulu, was 2 1/2 she was a big bundle of energy, she didn’t want to sit still and bedtime could be hectic because she still had energy to spare.

My sister knew the importance of reading to your child (we’ll get to that, I promise), but Lulu had other ideas. Since she was a baby they have battled to get her to sit still at bedtime for a story. Not fun! But she didn’t give up and kept trying.

Once while staying with my sister for a holiday I jumped at the chance to help put Lulu to bed. Of course, I grabbed a couple of books from the shelf to read. Suddenly our little bundle on energy wanted nothing more than to sit down and listen to a story! Mum and Dad were in complete shock!

Over the next few nights, I read 2 or 3 stories to her and slowly it became part of her routine. She now can’t get enough of bedtime stories!

Now, I’m not saying that I have some mad bedtime-story-ninja skills (although I might!), my point is that you should never give up. Try different books, different times of day and different people.

A baby or toddler who loves books will grow into a child that loves book and eventually an adult that does too!

This (rather long) introduction is my way of saying how important it is to instill a love of reading to babies and toddlers from a very young age.

The Importance of Reading to Babies and Toddlers?

Quiet Time

At the end of a busy day exploring and discovering new things, babies and toddlers can be a little overstimulated. All parents know that an excited toddler is very difficult to put to bed!

Being a Sleep Specialist website, of coruse I’m going to tout the importance of a good bedtime routine! And a bedtime story is a key part of that routine.

As adults, we all have ways we like to unwind in the evenings. We don’t go from running around like crazy and flopping into bed (well, OK maybe we do some days, but it’s not healthy to do it every day!), we have a routine that gets our minds and bodies ready for bed. Babies and toddlers are just the same.

My children always looked forward to that special one-on-one time they got with me before bed. The busier and more hectic your life is, the more your children need this!

It’s like the saying about meditation – “Everyone should mediate for 10 minutes a day. If you don’t have time for 10 minutes a day to mediate, then you should do it for 20 minutes a day!”

Basically, the busier our lives, the more we NEED downtime – the same applies to babies and toddlers!

Reading to babies and toddlers is a perfect way to help them relax at the end of the day.

The Love of Reading

The Importance of Reading to Babies and Toddlers | How reading to your baby or toddler will help them develop a life long love of reading! Also AWESOME BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS your child will love!

Raising a child who has a love of reading is probably one of the easiest and more important things you can do for your child’s education.

If a child WANTS to read, they are going to be more successful at school, have richer imaginations and a larger vocabulary.

By reading from a young age you will naturally introduce your child to spelling, grammar, story structure and so much more. All skills that are needed to succeed in school.

Improve Listening & Attention Skills

If you start reading to your baby from a young age they will develop stronger listening skills. As babies their language is still developing, by reading to them, you are exposing them to more complex language that they need to pay more attention to.

The same applies to toddlers and preschoolers. At that age, they jump from one activity to the next very quickly. However, if you encourage them to sit with you for a longer period of time (10-20 minutes) you are helping them learn longer-term attention skills that will benefit them in school and beyond.

Larger Vocabulary

The importance of talking to our babies and toddlers throughout the day is well documented. But we often use simpler language because we want to be sure our little one understands what we are saying.

We might not always use correct grammar either (like referring to ourselves in the third person! “Don’t worry, Mommy’s here”). There is nothing wrong with this and it does help your toddler understand you better.

However, by reading a variety of books to your little one, you will be exposing them to different words and sentence structures to those that you normally use.

Rhythm

When my eldest son was a baby I was friends with a child development specialist and she told me about the link between reading and physical activities like crawling and walking.

The Importance of Reading to Babies and Toddlers | How reading to your baby or toddler will help them develop a life long love of reading! Also AWESOME BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS your child will love!

Being able to successfully crawl requires the baby to develop a basic sense of rhythm. Left hand, right hand, left foot, right foot…  My friend said that research had shown that reading to a baby from a young age helps to develop this skill.

The rhythm and patterns of reading aloud to a baby become ingrained in them and they can use that skill to enhance their crawling and walking.

Unfortunately, I’m no longer in contact with that friend and I can’t find any scientific research papers on this. So I can’t back up this claim. However, it does make complete sense to me!

How to Encourage Reading in Babies and Toddlers

So now we understand the importance of reading to our little ones, we need to work on developing the habit.

It can be a BIG challenge to get a toddler to sit still long enough for a story, but we have to keep trying different methods until we find the one that fits! Reading is just too important to give up the first try!

What You Need

The most important things you need are:

  • Books!
  • A comfy place to sit (a big armchair, sofa, bed… anywhere you all are comfortable. Even cushions on the floor!)
  • Quiet (turn off the TV and radio!)

That’s it!

Time of Day

I’ve talked a lot about reading before bed. This is a natural part of the day to read to a child. But depending on your situation, it might not work.

Try these other times of day to read to your little one instead (or as well!):

  • Before a nap.
  • First thing in the morning.
  • Waiting at the school bus stop for an older child.
  • Waiting for an appointment.
  • After dinner (while your partner cleans the dishes hopefully!).

I also had a selection of audio books for children in my car. I’d play them to my kids all the time.

Even now my children are pre-teens and teens, when we are going on a long car ride, we take an audiobook or 2 with us. The library is a great resource for this – my local library even has an app that I can borrow and download audiobooks from.

What Type of Books

The Importance of Reading to Babies & Toddlers | How reading to your baby or toddler will help them develop a life long love of reading! Also AWESOME BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS your child will love!

Finding age-appropriate books that will hold your child’s attention can be difficult.

That’s where the library can be a massive help! Let your child pick a few books off the shelves at the library and sit down together and look at them.

You’ll soon work out which ones hold their attention and which ones don’t!

Also which ones you like or don’t! There’s nothing worse than reading the most boring book 10 times in a row!

Or you can save time and check out my recommendations at the end of this article – tried and tested on even the wiggliest child! 

How to Read

How to read? You might be thinking that you KNOW how to read and of course you do! But reading to babies and toddlers can be quite different, especially if you’ve no experience of doing it before.

You need to put a lot of inflection in your voice. The more animated you sound, the more engaged your child will be.

Use your finger to track the words. Your 14-month-old isn’t going to read the words along with you, but you are teaching them the building blocks of reading. Left to right, one line after another. It’s second nature to us, but they have to be taught it.

Use fun voices! This is one of my favorite parts of reading to children! I do lots of silly voices for the different characters. Sometimes I would get them mixed up and my kids would be VERY quick to point it out (ohhh… so they are paying attention!).

Engage Your Child

The Importance of Reading to Babies & Toddlers | How reading to your baby or toddler will help them develop a life long love of reading! Also AWESOME BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS your child will love!

Find books that have flaps to open or tabs to pull to keep young children engaged (see my recommendations below). If they get to be part of the reading process they are more likely to pay attention as they wait for their “turn”.

Stop every so often and ask your child a question about the story.

  • Why do you think the little boy was crying?
  • What food might Red Riding Hood take to her grandma?
  • Why is everyone scared of the Gruffalo?
  • Would you pick the pink or blue ice cream?

By asking questions you are not only involving your child in the reading process, but you are also teaching them key comprehension skills that they will use throughout their school and work-life!

Enjoy!

The most important thing, above all else, is to enjoy this time with your child. Make it an important part of your day, as well as your child’s.

You’ll hear it often about young children, but it’s very true – “The days are long but the years are short”.

Enjoy the quiet cuddles, because before you know it, they won’t want to curl up on your lap anymore.

Recommended Books

Here are some books that I have used and were much loved by my children, nieces, and nephews!

All these books will be enjoyed by older and younger children – perfect for reading together as a family! These are my “go-to” books!

Hairy Maclary From Donaldson’s Dairy By Lynley Dodd

This delightful rhyming book is a lot of fun to read and both boys and girls LOVE it. There is repetition that younger children like and humor for slightly older children! Other great books by Lynley Dodd include Slinky Malinki and Hairy Maclary’s Bone (all her books are wonderful!).

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

I love all of Julia Donaldson’s books and I would list every single one if I could. But The Gruffalo is the original and in my mind the best! It’s another rhyming book (kids love rhyming books!), that has familiar patterns of words. There is now a mini-movie and whole franchise around The Gruffalo, so if your child loves the book you’ll have lots of ideas for Chirstmas and birthday presents! Also, check out Room on a Broom and A Gold Star for Zog.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

This classic children’s book is still one of my favorites. It’s simple to read and the bright illustrations will hold babies attention well. This is an excellent book for under 1 years olds, but toddlers will also enjoy it. Once your child is speaking, point to each picture of food and ask them to name it!

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

This is a sweet book that might not hold the attention of a wiggly toddler, but if you can get them to sit still, then it is a heart-warming story that will make you and your child feel all warm inside! We actually have a number of “I love you to the moon and back” pictures and signs up outside my children’s bedroom doors – it’s become a bit of a family catchphrase!

Tails by Matthew Van Fleet

LOVE LOVE LOVE this book! This book is PERFECT for that wiggly toddler as there are multiple tabs, flaps and furry spots on each page for your child to play with as you read (even a stinky skunk to scratch and sniff!). This is a great book to introduce the habit of reading to your child as it feels more like a game than a book. Also check out: HeadsDog and Cat

Each Peach Pear Plum by Allan and Janet Ahlberg

This was one of my favorite books when I WAS A CHILD! But it’s a timeless classic! It uses familiar fairy story characters with repetition and rhyming that captures the imagination. I can still recite the entire book off by heart!

And for older children… anything by Roald Dahl! Enough said!

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