If you read many parenting books and articles, you have probably heard that reading to babies is useful for bonding and for exposing young children to a variety of words and sounds but is ultimately not that important for development. This is certainly true when it comes to children under a year old, but the story becomes much different for children aged two to three. During these years, reading continues to be important for bonding and language development, but it is also an important way to teach your child about the world and to get an early jump on his or her education. In short, if you are not already reading to your toddler, it is time to start.
The basic benefits of reading
There is undeniable proof, backed by countless studies, that toddlers whose parents read to them have distinct advantages in numerous areas, including socially and educationally. The reason for these benefits are easy to understand. Reading helps expose the toddler's developing mind to sights and concepts that are not present in his or her daily life, and this helps prepare the child to process all sorts of new situations in life. In general, the more broad a young child's experience with the world, the more prepared he or she is to process new experiences, and reading is a big contributing factor to this.
Plus, there is the simple fact that words introduce new concepts, helping children to think better and think in new directions. Language development is not the only element in intellectual skills, but it is crucial, as words represent things in the world, and the more words a child knows, the more comfortable she will be with the world.
Meanwhile, reading to toddlers helps them develop their unique personalities and interests. When you read to a child who is under a year old, you might find that he is engaged in the material but not significantly more engaged in one book than in any other (although many young children best enjoy the books they are familiar with). Through the toddler years, though, you will notice your child taking a greater interest in certain types of books. The more types of books you expose her to, the greater chance she has to find things she likes-and this helps lay the groundwork for future hobbies and personal pursuits.
Reading has little benefit if you try to do it when your toddler is not in the mood and hence not receptive to the educational side of it. While it is best to read to your child as often as possible-having multiple reading sessions a day is optimal-what is most important is that you discover the times and moods in which your child will be most engaged in the activity. This might be early in the morning, later in the day after a nap, or in the evening before bed time. The only way to know for sure is to experiment.
Meanwhile, it is also important to let your child have a hand in what books you read and how you read them. At some point, you might find your child asking you to read the same book over and over. This might be boring for parents, but it is a sign that she is taking an interest in something, which is good. Plus, you can bet that she will move on to a different book in time.
Even though reading can at times become a chore for parents, it is also important to be engaged and to try to read well. Kids love when their parents read slowly and clearly, point things out in the pictures, and even do voices for the different characters. If you genuinely have fun with it, your child will also have more fun.
At some point during the toddler years, you may find your child has increasing difficulty sitting still through an entire book, paying attention, and following along without grabbing for the pages. None of this is bad. When your child loses interest or wanders off, you are free to stop reading, but be ready to pick it up again when she comes back. Also do not be afraid to let her flip through the books herself. Board books are great for this, but at some point during the toddler years your child should learn to flip through a paper book without destroying the pages. This might take practice, so keep giving her chances.