Readers read because they want to, so the secret to encouraging our children is the same for reading as it is for play, creativity, sports, hobbies, or any other intrinsically rewarding activity. We must put away our agendas. Or, as Maria Montessori might suggest, “follow the child.” Here’s how…
1. Be an observer
Following our infants and toddlers means offering plenty of opportunities to read together and then paying close attention to their responses – observing and gauging our child’s interests and pace.
In an article I highly recommend, “Eight Tips for Reading With a Toddler”, educator Deborah Stewart shares observations about her 12 month old grandson who she says truly loves the reading experience. “I try to pay attention to which books he enjoys and which ones he doesn’t seem to be all that interested in. I also have noticed that different types of books invite different kinds of interaction.” Stewart then shares the specific observations that have helped her follow her grandson’s interests.
2. Let go of expectations
Trust your child’s interests and readiness. Fully accept that infants and young toddlers, especially, may have little or no interest in looking at a book together. It’s far more surprising to me that some babies are willing to engage in reading time rather than practicing their developing motor skills or exploring the tactile world around them.
3. Be flexible
Allow babies to explore books as they wish (with the exception of tearing or eating them). Let them hold the book upside down and experiment with the mechanics of opening and closing it and turning pages. Welcome them to spend a long time on just one page and decide to be done with the book at any time. Patiently allow them to use books their way, in their time.
4. Don’t make reading into a chore
Babies, toddlers and preschoolers don’t need reading lessons (even if they’re disguised as “play”), tests, drills or flash cards. These grown-up agendas around reading might seem to produce results, but they are also practically guaranteed to sap some of the joy out of reading.
Brenda shared an enchanting video and story about her toddler son:
(The book he’s enjoying is My Little Animal Book by Roger Priddy)
“This is my 18 month old son “reading” to himself. Since he was little we have had story-time. It is directed by him – how long we read, what book, what page to read etc. This way I feel it’s not about entertaining him but facilitating and helping him find the joys of stories and books for himself by exploring and experimenting with them. For that reason he also has a corner in his playroom with a bookshelf and books that he can explore by himself when he chooses, too.
He is currently fascinated by animals and animal sounds. When we read together he points to the animal he is interested in, and I’ll tell him what it is and make the sound of the animal. In the video you can see he is practicing the sounds and interacting with the book. For example, in my first language ‘spider’ is a combination word where the end also means ‘head’, so when he sees a spider he touches his head. He isn’t using a lot of words yet, but when I observe him interacting like this it’s a joy to see the comprehension and recognition of the animals and their sounds.”
5. Trust and encourage children to choose books and approach reading their way
When we lose our agendas, everyone wins.
(For a list of my children’s favorite books when they were infants, toddlers and preschoolers, please read: I Can’t Part With These Books)