Top Ten Tips for Engaging Babies and Toddlers in Reading

Did you know that……

“Reading aloud to children every day puts them almost a year ahead of children who do not receive daily read-alouds, regardless of parental income, education level or cultural background”. (Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research).

Reading the traditional way evokes imagination in a child, and allows their thought process to interpret the story in a meaningful way.  Along with visual associations, this thought process is vital in language development and early literacy skills such as:

  • Recognition of sounds
  • Vocabulary development
  • Understanding story structure
  • Book handling and naming
  • Listening skills

Reading books together allows for asking questions,  and promotes quality time and positive engagement between a parent and child.  Reading aloud also provides a more diverse set of words than child-directed speech, and in turn, will lead to an enhanced vocabulary.

There is no question, that parents should be reading to their children as early as possible – but what should you do, if your baby or toddler seems disinterested in reading?

First of all, it is important to recognise that babies and toddlers are not developmentally ready to be sitting still for long periods of time and we should first and foremost, be guided by their interests and abilities.

reading toddler baby

Here are some tips on how to incorporate reading into your daily routine in a fun way:

1. Read to them while they are eating

This is a great time to read to your child as they are usually strapped into a high chair and can’t go anywhere! Reading to them during a meal is a good time to get their attention and can often keep them distracted while they are eating.

2. Read to them in the bath

Babies and toddlers, usually love the bath.  Reading a story will just enhance their bathtime fun.  You can purchase low-cost waterproof books, especially for the bath.  They usually have a squeaky ball inside them that add to the overall appeal of bathtime reading.

3. You don’t always have to read the words

You can point to the pictures, ask questions, find objects, or just read ‘key’ lines.  My youngest daughter’s favourite book was ‘Room on the Broom‘ by Julia Donaldson but it is much too long for a toddler to sit still and read word for word.  I just summed up each page in one or two sentences and read some of the main lines of the book.  As she gets older, we will slowly read more of the book.  But for now, she is happy.  She loves the storyline, she knows the key lines and she loves the characters.  And it is all completed in a time that suits her developmental ability to sit still.

4. Choose books that they are interested in

Get books about topics they love.  Birds, trucks, dogs, the zoo, the beach, cooking, babies, or favourite movie character – there are books about everything!  Choose the ones they like or better yet, let them help you pick their own.

5. Choose books that are interactive

Books that hold the attention of babies and toddlers the most are ones that are interactive.  Find books that have flaps they can lift, things they can touch or smell, or buttons to press.

6. Act out the story

Toddlers love to move.  Find a story that has hand actions or that can be acted out.  Nursery Rhyme books are usually full of these – Incy Wincy Spider, Twinkle Little Star, Wheels on the Bus etc.  By using hand actions or movement, you can hold their interest for a longer period of time.

7. Sing

Choose books that have songs. Again, nursery rhymes are good for this.  Singing helps improve language development through auditory discrimination, phonological awareness, vocabulary development and auditory memory.  Plus, singing is fun!

8. Let them hold the book

A lot of parents get frustrated because their baby/toddler want to hold the book and keep turning the pages back and forth.  Just go with it.  Give them the book.  This may mean that you read the same page 24 times, or that you skip pages, but just go with it.  Just by holding the book and turning the pages gives toddlers a sense of independence and helps to develop their book handling skills. If this just drives you totally bananas, then go to tip #9.

9. Give them a small book to hold while you read a different book

Give them a small book to hold, while you read aloud to them from a different book.  This way they are getting all the benefits of an adult reading aloud to them, while they get to fiddle with their own book.

10. Make reading a part of your daily routine and make it enjoyable

Make reading a part of your daily routine.  Babies and toddlers LOVE routine.  More importantly, it needs to be fun and enjoyable for everyone.  The more they love reading when they are younger, the more they will read during school, and as an adult.

In the words of Dr Suess ” The more that you read,  the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you will go

Happy reading,


Renee Irving Lee
Click here to purchase your copy of ‘The Strongest Boy’ – a picture book that shows children how to be strong with your mind, words and heart.