Instilling a love of reading at an early age improves children’s lifelong health and well-being. As a parent, you know it’s important to read to babies and toddlers, but it can certainly still feel like a challenge in the moment. Here are a few tips from Virginia-based Optima Health to build a new habit of reading together—and how to make it FUN!
- Snuggle up with a good (baby) book. Before babies can talk, their brains benefit from reading. Snuggle with your baby on your lap, and share a book with bright, colorful pictures. Just avoid spiral bindings, which a teething baby could bite.
- Get in the groove. Read together every day, to connect reading with a warm and loving time of day when you two cuddle close.
- Be dramatic. Your vocal expressions make reading more fun. Exclaim when you read something surprising! Whisper or slow words down when you want to hold attention. Use silly voices. If there’s a cat, dog, sheep, monkey, or cow, make those animal sounds. And, when the story ends, share how much you love the book.
- Plan for the wiggles. Once children become toddlers, they’re all about action. Toddlers want to snuggle close at story time, but they have trouble sitting still. Try to find interactive books that encourage their participation, like a pop-up book. A book with moveable parts, flaps, or different textures to touch can help. Make a picture book more interactive by pointing to the different parts of the picture, asking them questions, and talking about the objects they see.
- Make it their own. Help toddlers feel personally attached to their book, by looking for a book with a handle or large plastic ring to clutch and carry.
- Rhythm nation. Recite rhymes, sing songs, and pause to let your toddler finish the phrase. Once they’re familiar with the rhyme or pattern, make mistakes on purpose and get caught.
- Find books that express feelings. Characters who are kind to each other are awesome, but it’s also OK to read about characters who make some mischief along the way. After all, your toddler gets some grumpy feelings, so it’s good for them to know that they’re still loveable, just like the character in the book.
- Play it again. Young children love repetition. Sometimes, they’ll ask for the same book again and again, for what seems like thousands of times. Go ahead and read it again. Reading about their favorite things actually helps build their attention span. Other times, they’ll lose interest in the middle of a story, and making it interactive just doesn’t hold their attention. Then, it’s ok to stop. Try a different story, or a different time of day. The goal is to make reading fun together, not necessarily to finish every book.
- Connect reading with events they enjoy. Going to the aquarium? Read a book about fish and marine life. Going to the zoo? Choose a book about lions, tigers, and bears. Riding the bus? There’s a book for that. Not going anywhere? Create your own zoo with stuffed animals. Stage a race with toy cars. Ask your toddler to describe what she is seeing to build her vocabulary.
- Talk to your pediatrician. Your child’s doctor is here for you if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s language development, hearing, or sight, as you read together.
Dr. Thomas Lundquist, Chief Medical Officer at Optima Health, offers a physician’s perspective about story time with young children, saying, “Reading together is a great way to help your child grow socially and emotionally. Plus, reading can improve their vocabulary, grow their self-confidence, and broaden their imagination.”
Optima Health offers a variety of literacy services for low-income children and adults, recognizing the positive effect that reading has on lifelong health and well being. This includes a popular puppet performance that will reach more than 38,000 children in 100 different locations such as public schools, public libraries, and community events in lower-income areas throughout Virginia this winter and spring.