Reading to Your Toddler: Who-What-When-Where-Why

Reading to Toddlers: The Who-What-When-Where-Why

You hear it all the time…it’s important to read to your child. But reading to your toddler isn’t as easy as it sounds. Are some of these phrases familiar too?

“My toddler won’t sit still long enough to finish a book.”

“My toddler doesn’t seem interested in reading.”

“I can’t find time to read to my toddler.”

If so, this post is for you. I’ve put together the who, what, when, where, why, and how, of reading to your toddler. These are tips that have worked for me and are easy enough, that you can start implementing them today!

The Who-What-When-Where-Why of Reading to Your Toddler

~I received samples to help facilitate this post, on behalf of Priddy Books and Moms Meet. This post may contain affiliate links, in which I will receive a small commission for your purchase, at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are still 100% my own.~

WHY You Should Read to Your Toddler

The “why” of reading to your toddler is the most important. Simply put, reading to your toddler helps to promote brain development. That includes language, literacy, emotion and imagination.

To be a bit cliche, it’s true that toddlers brains are like sponges. They may be really young, but they’re absorbing all kinds of information about their surroundings.

During the toddler years, it’s amazing what children learn.

  • Repeating words they hear.
  • Recognizing the concept and difference between “me” and “you.”
  • Identifying people, places, things and animals.
  • Matching animals to their animal sounds.
  • Linking words together to form two-word sentences; then moving on to full conversation.
  • Understanding and complying with simple and even some complex directions.
  • By age 3, a child’s vocabulary is typically 200+ words.

As the parent of a child with a speech delay, teachers and therapists repeatedly communicate that even at my daughter’s age of 4, continuing to read with her daily will help improve her speech.

WHO Should Read to Your Toddler

When thinking about who should read to your toddler, don’t forget the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Get the whole family involved – mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, and even brothers and sisters. My 8 year can easily share a short book with his little brother and sister. Not only are the little ones learning, but he’s getting in good reading practice too!

girl reading to her little sister

Don’t have a village? It’s okay. You’re still not alone. There are times when my toddler is kept occupied by his tablet. I know screen time can be a controversial topic among parents, but I have no problem with my toddler listening to books on his tablet. He’s getting the same verbal and visual exposure that he would be getting if I were reading him a book.

Let me just throw in there that my 2 year old can count to 10. Neither of his older siblings could do that at 2 years old. And you know what? He learned it from activities on his tablet. So I’m a firm believer that tablets aren’t all bad.

That said, there are perks to physical books and putting your toddler in your lap to read, that you don’t get with tablets. I’ll talk about those perks under the “what” and “how” of reading to your toddler.

WHAT to Read to Your Toddler

Sometimes keeping the attention of small kids is a struggle. So when choosing what to read to your toddler, here a few things to keep in mind.

  • Rhyme, rhythm, and repetition are fun! It’s just like singing a song and who doesn’t like singing?
  • Look at the length of the book. Toddlers are very energetic, so when story time rolls around, choose a book that will take no more than a few minutes to read. If you can get your toddler to sit for longer than 5 minutes, I’d say you’re ahead of the game.
  • Read books that match your child’s interests. What is your child most interested in? Animals? Cars? Princesses? Dinosaurs? Reading a book about something he’s interested in will help hold his attention for longer. Even have your toddler pick out his own book.
  • Interactive books will never let you down. Toddlers like to explore with their hands, so books that allow interaction will always be a favorite. Try styles like Lift-The-Flap, Pop-Ups, Touch and Feel, and sticker books.
Priddy Books - Early Learning Collection

Now, remember I said there are perks to reading physical books? Hands-on interaction is one of them. I’m not just talking about physically having the ability to hold the book and turn the pages. Interactive features, like lifting flaps, pages popping up, and the touch and feel aspect, isn’t something you get on a tablet. So while it’s okay for toddlers to have screen time, it’s also important to incorporate hands-on learning with physical books.

Priddy Books has an amazing Early Learning Collection that’s full of interactive sensory books. We recently added some of this collection to our own home library, and my kids took to the books immediately.

One of my 2 year old’s favorite books from the Priddy Books Early Learning Collection is Alphaprints: Colors. This book features vibrant colors, embossed details in the imagery, as well as repetition on each page, helping toddlers to learn their colors.

Toddler looking at "Alphaprints: Colors" from Priddy Books Early Learning Collection

Most notable for my 4 year old is My First Play and Learn Farm. This is an interactive sticker book – reusable sticker book, I should say – that teaches colors, sorting, and matching. It’s the perfect complement to preschool learning!

Attesting to how much fun the book really is, my daughter couldn’t put it down. She went through the whole book several times, moving the stickers around, for almost an hour.

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Every day is a great day for learning, especially when it’s fun! (AD) My 2 and 4 year olds are obsessed with this new addition to their home library, My First Farm by @priddybooks. 📚 Both are learning how to sort, working on hand-eye coordination, growing their matching skills, and even improving their speech. The best part is that they’re having fun doing it! The stickers in the book are reusable and can be moved from page to page, activity to activity, without being damaged. I’m pretty sure my daughter just went through the entire book at least 3 times in a row. 🥰 @momsmeet #momsmeet #priddybooks #earlylearning #fuelinglittleminds #homelibrary #kidsbooks #bigideasforlittlepeople #momof3 #matchingskills #sortingskills #handeyecoordination #improvingspeech

A post shared by Danielle | FL Family Blogger (@makingtimeformemories) on

WHEN and WHERE to Read to Your Toddler

When should you read to your toddler and where? Well, anytime and anywhere!

Eating lunch? Read to your toddler. This is a good time to read and learn about food.

Waiting for cookies to bake? Read to your toddler.

At the doctor’s office, waiting? Read to your toddler.

toddler reading "First 100 Words" book from Priddy Books

In the car? Read to your toddler, as long as you’re not the driver. This is a good time for older siblings to get involved.

Spending a little time at the park? Read to your toddler.

Almost bedtime? Read to your toddler.

Is it bath time? Read to your toddler. This is actually one of my personal favorites and for a couple different reasons. For one, your child can’t get away because he’s in the bathtub. And two, it’s a great time to allow your toddler to get creative. Try reading a book about fish or something water related. If you have bath toys, act out the story in the bathtub. It’s a great way to encourage creativity and imagination.

It’s always a good time to read to your toddler and you can do it anywhere! Many books suitable for toddlers are small and will easily fit in a diaper bag, or whatever you’re carrying around. Simply include a small book as part of your child’s daily outing essentials.

HOW to Read to Your Toddler

If you’ve gotten this far in the post, I’m going to assume you know how to read. But do you know how to read to a toddler? Let’s make sure!

Tip #1: Change your tone and voice! I cannot stress this enough, which is why it’s at the top of the list. Toddlers want to have fun and if you’re reading in a monotone voice, IT. IS. NOT. FUN!

I recall listening to my boyfriend read to our kids one time and there was no variation in his tone or voice as he read. As an adult, I wouldn’t even want him reading to me. This isn’t a news article. It’s a kids book!

Just think about it. When you read silently to yourself and there’s a female and male character. Even though you’re not reading aloud, don’t you still read in your head with different tones and voices for those characters? Of course you do!

You have to change your tone to get the full effect of emotion and personality of different characters, no matter who you’re reading to, even toddlers. Not to mention, toddler books are designed to be playful. Put those silly voices to use!

Tip #2: Let your child choose which book to read. I mentioned this before under the “what” of reading to your toddler. If you want to keep your child’s attention, let him choose what you read together. And of course, be prepared to read it over…and over…and over. It may get boring for you, but he’s enjoying it, and learning more and more every time it’s read. Soon he’ll be able to recite the book by memory and looking at the pictures, even if he can’t read the words yet.

toddler reading his favorite Lightning McQueen book

Tip #3: Let your child turn the pages. Some smaller children may need help with this, but most toddlers can properly turn the pages of board books. At first he may skip a page or two, but that’s okay. Just correct it and notice it as a learning experience. Letting your child choose his own book and then turn the pages himself, will help build confidence.

Tip #4: Make sure your child is close enough to see your face and the book. With this tip, comes another perk of physically reading to your child. It could be reading from a book or a tablet, as long as you are actually doing the reading and not the tablet.

Toddlers learn by imitation. You want your toddler to be able to see your face as you speak because it will teach him how to move his mouth to form sounds and words. You also want him to be able to see the book, so he can make connections between pictures and the sounds/words being spoken. Which leads me to the next tip…

Tip #5: Take it slow. Reading to your toddler is not something you want to rush. Stop on each page and point out different things in the pictures. Ask questions about the pictures and help your toddler answer them. There may not be many words in the book, but each and every page has infinite potential to help your toddler expand his understanding of the world around him.

So there it is! I’ve laid out the who-what-when-where-why, and the how, of reading to your toddler. I want to end by encouraging you to never feel defeated if you don’t finish a whole book with your toddler. He’s only 2-3 years old. The attention span isn’t there. Take it day-by-day and do your best. Just remember that repetition creates a habit. The more you try to read to your toddler, the more it becomes a norm for him.

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