Parenting Pointers: Reading to Your Toddler

Sally Tannen, Director, 92nd Street Y Parenting Center

There's nothing like sitting down with your child to share a good book. You get to know your child better and watch your child progress, so you're both learning and having fun. With families more and more pressed for time, reading is a great way to relax together and establish intimacy.

By choosing the right time and the right title, any parent can make reading a favorite pastime. Here is some practical advice for parents of children ages 2½ to 4.

What to Look For in a Book

Most parents are accustomed to following age guidelines when choosing toys. Unfortunately, many books for children don't include this information. Though you will pick up tips from other parents, caregivers and teachers, your child is your best guide. As you observe what kinds of books hold your child's interest—the ones that your child wants to hear over and over—you'll quickly find your way.

1. Sturdy, simple design. When it comes to books intended for your child's little, busy hands, good design is key. Books printed on sturdy cardboard stand up to the wear and tear they'll get from younger toddlers, and can be easily shared with playmates or younger siblings. Books should have only a sentence or two per page since pages that are cluttered with lots of text don't lend themselves to being read aloud and don't encourage your child's involvement. Along with the sound of your voice, turning the pages is something little ones look forward to when sitting down with you to read.

2. Stories with repetition. Children respond to seeing and hearing the same words and phrases from one page to the next. Books about animals, like the now classic Mother Goose rhymes, fit the bill nicely and offer the extra benefit of encouraging kids to "read" along as animals make different noises.

3. Moving parts. Beginning with a baby's first reading experience, there's no better way to capture your child's interest than with moving parts or different materials. Remember Pat the Bunny, the original "touch and feel" book with its menagerie of animals, each with a different coat? For toddlers, "flap books" are the next logical step. With panels that open or slide, these books are sure to keep kids engaged from cover to cover and encourage interaction.

How to Make the Most of Story Time With Your Tot

1. Consider the timing. Bed time, nap time and bath time are unique opportunities to read together. Depending on personality, your child will be more likely to sit still at these points in the day. (There are even books designed to get wet—whether in the bathtub or at the beach.) Whatever the time of day, once a schedule's been established, toddlers look forward to the ritual.

2. Give your child a say. Toddlers naturally have control issues, so invite your child to pick out three books to read at a sitting. Since you will have already pre-selected the titles on your bookshelf, you can relax about your child's selections.

3. Enjoy the moment. When it comes to reading with children, relaxation and sharing are the main ingredients for success. Avoid the temptation to quiz your child with one-word-answer questions about the books. You may spend anywhere from a few minutes to an hour reading together at one sitting, so focus on enjoying the author's creativity and humor.

4. If at first... You can take comfort in knowing that just because a title doesn't captivate your child on the first try, that doesn't mean it won't later. Since developmental changes are constant, the book that your toddler rejects one month may be a favorite the next. And since books take up little space, you can simply leave them on the shelf for another time—no toy chest required.

Building Your Child's Library

As children's books take up more and more space on the shelves at the library and the neighborhood bookseller, the choices can be overwhelming. A little planning can save time, money and worry.

1. Know your child. Take note of your child's interests—like trucks, bugs or other "favorite things"—and consider what's most of concern at any given moment. There are many titles that can help kids through major transitions and other real-life experiences like potty training, difficulty sleeping, going to the doctor, the birth of a sibling, the death of a pet, and separation. Some examples: * P.D. Eastman, Are You My Mother? (separation) * Taro Gomi, Everyone Poops (potty training) * Kevin Henkes, Owen (going to school) * Russell Hoban, Bed Time for Frances (sleep) * Rosemary Wells, McDuff and the Baby (new baby)

2. Make it an outing. As you become acquainted with children's books, you'll find many advantages to visiting the local library or bookstore over shopping online. For one thing, you'll be able to determine the suitability and durability of a book only by perusing it in person. You're likely to find titles that have won awards on the same shelf or aisle—an almost fail-safe way to get started building your own collection. Many families find going to the library makes a perfect weekly outing; besides the wide selection, there's free advice to be had from the children's librarian and access to out-of-print titles that are considered classics of children's literature.

3. Keep a reading list, just as you'd do when shopping for school supplies. It's not necessary to look for specific titles; the most respected authors can be relied on year-in, year-out for well-conceived, beautifully illustrated books. In addition to well-recognized, time-tested names like Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose, the following writers have written books ideally suited to toddlers:

* Janet and Allan Ahlberg * Frank Asch * Margaret Wise Brown * John Burningham * Eric Carle * Donald Crews * Don Freeman * Gail Gibbons * Kevin Henkes * Eric Hill * Lillian or Tana Hobans-Russell * Ezra Jacks Keats * Ruth Kraus * Leo Lionni * Elise Minarik * H.A. Rey * Richard Scarry * Marjorie Sharmut * Rosemary Wells * Harriet Ziefert * Gene Zion

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