Monday, September 09, 2013

Reading to infants and toddlers, a joyful experience

If you are a young parent having an infant or toddler, have you ever wondered if it is worth the effort to read to your child? The reading of picture books with your toddler is one of the most important and enjoyable ways of spending time together. The combination of pictures and words is a close relationship, which echoes the relationship between parent and child.

With a picture book the child looks at the pictures while the adult reads the text. This leads to surprising and stimulating shared conversations between the two, as text and pictures are explored and pored over. In the best picture books there is often a mysterious gap between the pictures and the words, a gap that is filled by the child’s imagination More and more researchers are learning that reading to infants and toddlers can be very beneficial. Sharing books and other reading materials with toddlers at a young age can establish a strong foundation for later literacy skills.

Here is a real-life experience. Suchitra, a one year old, is sitting in his mother’s lap looking at a favourite board book. As the page turns to a picture of a fire engine, his face lights up and he laughs with delight as his mother imitates a siren. He reaches for the book and turns the page himself to see the next vehicle, a police car. As he looks at the picture his mother shows him a toy police car and says, “Look, Suchitra! We have a car like that.” Together the mother and child begin to push the police car across the floor, making engine noises.

The example above shows the joy both Suchitra and his mother share in reading together. Suchitra benefits from the sense of closeness he feels to his mother. He responds to the sound of his mother’s voice and the comfort of being held. He learns from looking at the pictures, hearing the sounds, and interacting with his mother. The mother helps Suchitra make connections between the pictures in the book and the materials in the room.


Toddlers who are read to consistently by their parents often begin reading earlier than their peers. You can begin reading to your toddlers from birth. The more you read, the more familiar with books and words they will be. They will learn the basics, such as which direction to turn the pages, at a surprisingly young age if they are exposed to books early. This quickly leads to familiarity with the alphabet and lays the groundwork for letters and word recognition.

Reading time is great bonding time. Time spent sharing books with your toddler is perfect snuggle time. Your toddler will delight in this special closeness and you will delight in his reactions at the stories and pictures.

Reading to your toddler gives you an inside look at what he is interested in. When children are little, the parents often pick the books that will be read. But, as children get older, they develop their own distinct preferences. From the time babies become verbal, they will start requesting a particular, favourite book. The older a child, the more specific the book requests become. A seven-year-old will often like books by a particular author or books that follow a particular theme. A toddler who likes dogs will often request that the same book about dogs be read over and over.

This is a great way to indulge and support your children’s interests. Toddlers who are read to develop a love of reading. A love of reading is a lifelong gift to give to your toddlers. The pleasure of getting lost in a good book is something that toddlers can experience with their parents at a young age. As they get older, they will enjoy reading more and more on their own, especially when enticed by books with favourite themes. But they will still enjoy sharing a book with their parents.

Reading to toddlers helps to develop their imaginations. Having a healthy imagination helps toddlers in their very important work of play. Stories will add fuel to the fire of an already active imagination. Toddlers will play out stories and enjoy pretending they are their favourite story book characters.

How to do

So how can we help our toddlers develop that love? The key to reading readiness during the toddler years is indirect instruction: This involves introducing your toddler to books and print in a way that gets him excited about the stories they contain. Basically, your job is to show him that books are important - and fun! The best way to accomplish this is by reading to him.

As early as six months, babies enjoy looking at simple board books with pictures and labels. Between the ages of one and two, repetitive and rhyming books are most likely to capture your child’s interest, and between two and three, he’ll begin to enjoy books with more text and simple story lines. Be sure to hold the book so your toddler can see the pictures easily, and point to things that seem to capture his attention when you read to him.

Alphabet books can help toddlers learn to isolate letters within a stream of print, and many children can identify their own name by the time they’re three years. A lot of toddlers can also identify the signs and logos they see around them. If your toddler’s listening to stories and looking at books and has some concept that printed words include letters, he’s well on his way to learning how to read.


Talk to your toddler as you read a book. While you and your toddler read together, try labelling objects on a page, talking about the pictures, or taking turns telling the story. As you read, remember to stop every now and then and give your toddler time to focus on pages that are interesting to him. These interactions will also provide you with a window into your child’s interests, fears, and wishes.

As you read, take your cues from your toddler. It is in order if your toddler only wants to talk about the pictures or skip pages of the book. To make stories more interesting, you may want to change words or substitute the name of your child for one of the characters. What is most important is that you and your toddler have fun as you explore the world of books together.

Build reading into everyday routines. Whether it’s at nap time or after dinner as a family, incorporating reading into daily events firmly establishes reading as a part of your toddler’s life.

Reading to young toddlers builds a strong foundation for later literacy skills. It is important to share books with each child, keeping in mind the child’s level of development and interest. As the toddlers grow and mature, the experiences you have provided when they were small will help to build the skills they need to eventually become lifelong readers.

Reading is an addiction that parents should encourage well before their baby’s first birthday. The bonding experience is unbeatable. When you read to toddlers, they’re getting your full attention, and that’s what they just love. Nothing - no TV show or toy - is better than that.

This article is based on professional research papers presented at a workshop on Early Childhood Education Teaching and Learning in UK, recently.

By Lionel Wijesiri - Sunday Observer