My older son was always interested in books, even when he was just an infant. I got spoiled because he loved to snuggle up with a book just as much as I do. Even today, he can spend long periods in his room poring over a good book.
His little brother, on the other hand, is a different story. It’s not that he doesn’t like books. It’s just that he’d much rather be running around the house, poking his older brother, and generally climbing the walls.
In other words, he is a normal wiggly toddler. And as much as I love (and envy) his energy, I wanted to make sure that he didn’t miss out on all the benefits that go along with reading. After all, an incredible 90% of the brain is formed by the age of 5, and recent research also reveals that more than 80% of a child’s brain is formed by age 3. No pressure, right??
But think of it as an amazing gift. Just as you focus on giving your child the best foods for their growing bodies, we need to give them the best opportunity to grow that amazing brain of theirs. It’s not just about building vocabulary, it’s also about critical thinking skills to make good choices later in life.
So how to do this? Experts at First 5 California refer to the brain as a muscle that you can exercise through talking, reading and singing with your child regularly. You have the power to make a difference in your child’s life! Find out more about the new campaign “Talk. Read. Sing. ® It changes everything” at the bottom of this post, and don’t miss out on their amazing resources for learning activities for newborns, babies, toddlers, and preschoolers!
So what do you do if you have a child like mine who is not so interested in books? How to encourage a love of reading in such a blur of activity? Here are some ideas that have worked for us! How do you encourage a love of reading in your kids?
15 Ways to Encourage a Love of Reading in a Wiggly Toddler
1. Put away the classics: I have several beautiful editions of childhood classics – which my toddler has no interest in. Some kids are naturally drawn to these works, and some are not, and that’s okay. For the time being, don’t get too hung up on having your child read the “right” books. Within reason, whatever he likes to read is the right book for him. The important thing is to encourage a love of reading in general, not to force appreciation of particular books.
2. Go off script: Many of us were raised to treat the written word as almost sacred and therefore something you should not alter. After all, would you second guess Shakespeare or Allende by changing what they wrote? But children’s books are a different animal. While children’s authors and their craft should be respected, I’m sure they would agree that (especially for very young children) the text is often more of a guideline than a strict script. If you notice your child’s attention is wandering, don’t worry about reading every word on the page. With wiggly ones, keep it short and sweet. As they get older, they will be more interested in the story lines, but when they are young this is less important. Change things up by inserting their name into the text or adding details from their own lives. (“And then Dinosaur Alex went to Grandma’s house and ate tons of bananas!”) Silly voices and sound effects are also a big hit!
3. Be interactive. Some books (such as lift the flap books) are designed to be interactive, but you can make an interactive experience out of any book. Point out and discuss objects on the page. (“Can you find George? What is he eating?”) My son and I have made a game out of reading Good Night, Moon. Have you noticed that the mouse is in a different spot in every bedroom scene? We have fun trying to find him throughout the book. Interactions like this not only keep their attention but help build literacy and critical thinking skills.
4. Follow their interests: Find books based on a favorite toy or TV show, or related to a favorite activity. There are so many themed book lists out there these days, that you can find good children’s books related to just about anything, whether it’s ninjas or fire trucks! Some of my favorite online resources are Growing Book by Book, Pragmatic Mom, and these great Pinterest boards: The Children’s Bookshelf, Books for Kids, and Multicultural Kids’ Books. And don’t forget to ask at your local library! Librarians are a wonderful resource.
5. Make it relevant: Going on a trip to Grandma’s house? Read a book about it! Have fun playing with fall leaves? Read a book about it! Toddlers will enjoy seeing their own activities mirrored in the books you read. (See #2 above for resources to find relevant books).
6. Do extension activities: You can also go the opposite direction and create activities with your child related to what you are reading. Whether it’s making a recipe, doing a science experiment, or having a scavenger hunt and matching game, these are always a big hit! For activity kids especially, this can be a wonderful way to “activate” the book learning!
7. Build on success: Once you do find books that your little one enjoys, try to find others that are similar. In addition to themed book lists (see #2 above), you can search by more from the same author or ask your local children’s librarian for recommendations. If your library has an online catalog, you can also look up the book your child enjoys and click on the subject headings it is listed under to find other similar works. Some online catalogs even give recommendations, just like Amazon!
8. Pick strategic times and places: Even the most active child has to slow down sometime, so take advantage of those moments to pull out a good book to share. Times that work for us are bedtime, meal times, and – don’t laugh! – potty time. In fact, Little Monkey now expects and looks forward to reading together at those times, so I make sure to have a little stack of books in each spot. You know if a book has made the “potty” rotation that it is a real favorite! Car trips can also be a good way to sneak in some extra reading.
9. Go to your library’s story time: Again, libraries are such a great FREE resource in the community! And for active kids, a library story time is the perfect place to encourage a love of reading. Not only are they exposed to new books (with great story telling!) Often story times include fun activities for the kids, plus it can help them to see other children enjoying the stories.
10. Enlist role models: We are lucky to have our older son as a model, and I credit his obvious love of reading with a lot of Little Monkey’s interest in books. Young kids love to imitate older ones, and seeing their example can be a great influence. If you don’t have older children, perhaps there are cousins, neighbors, or friends that can serve as an example. Even visiting the library can help your child see older children enjoying books. Keep in mind that depending on the age and temperament of the older child, you may not want to mention that this is what you are doing. You don’t want them to feel self-conscious or that reading is something they “should” be doing. But it may work to ask them to read to your child. They both will probably enjoy it!
11. Set a good example: Also, don’t underestimate the power of your own example! I know first hand what a challenge it can be to find time to read when you have young children, be try to let your child “catch” you reading a book or magazine. If that isn’t feasible, at least make sure there are grown up books in the house. I usually read once my little ones are in bed, but they see the book on my nightstand and are always curious about what I’m reading.
12. Think outside the book: Keep in mind that books aren’t the only way to encourage a love of reading! Words are everywhere, so you can point them out on signs, posters, TV shows, and so on. For little ones learning their alphabet, it can be fun to search for letters when you are out running errands. My little one also likes to “help” me with my grocery list, very earnestly scribbling on my paper as he reads aloud what he thinks I should be getting: “Bananas, juice, dinosaur…” This wonderful post on creating a text-rich home is a great inspiration – though some of the suggestions are for older kids, many can be done with little ones, too!
13. Play literacy games: Literacy skills can be built through games and activities, which is a great option for kids that don’t like to sit still! For example, here are fun crafts and activities to learn ABCs, plus even more alphabet games! You can find more fun literacy activities in the First 5 California resource center!
14. Sing together: I noticed early on that though Little Monkey wasn’t very interested in books, he was very attentive to music and loved to try to sing along with me. So I try to do lots of songs with him, which can include finger play or actions. It is a great way to build vocabulary as well as helping them attend to a story line. We’ve even used music to teach Spanish!
15. Take advantage of community resources: I’ve already mentioned libraries as a great FREE resource. Another is First 5 California. This is a wonderful organization whose mission is to inform, educate and inspire parents and caregivers in California to talk, read and sing to their little ones starting from the day they are born.
The “Talk. Read. Sing. ® It changes everything” campaign is dear to my heart, because it encourages simple but profound ways that all parents and caregivers can make a difference in a child’s life. Be sure to check out the wonderful resources they have – I love the fun games and activities, and they even have a Pandora channel with great music you can enjoy together! Don’t miss the Video + Downloads tab for fun, interactive activities!