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Toddler girl reading a book on a sofa surrounded by teddy bear stuffed animal

How to Teach a Toddler to Read Stress-free

Discover the unexpected secret to teaching toddlers to read—no pressure, just the pure joy of discovery. Learn how to make every page turn a magical journey that could set the stage for a lifetime love of reading.

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The question I get the most is, “how do I teach a toddler to read?” What is with the rush to teach our toddlers to read? Aside from parental bragging rights, reading unlocks the key to the rest of the world for a child. With the Internet, being able to read gives individual’s access to all the information about our world, history, culture, the universe, and the future.

Two little girls reading books in the autumn forest , sitting on a log. Showing the concept that teaching toddlers to read is giving them access to knowledge and power.
When we read to our children, we are empowering them by passing on the key to the past, present, and future version of their world as they would like to see it.

I understand the rush of having our children read. We may think we are giving our children an invaluable gift if we push them to read as soon as possible, but when they are not ready, it will do more harm than good. The key to teaching your toddler how to read may not be the answer you are hoping to find. Science is a beautiful thing. We are learning new things about the human brain everyday and progress within early childhood development .

The thing with information is that, as parents, we have this natural need to take action as soon as we read or hear something for fear that our child will fall behind. Add in social media and parental pressures we get from friends and family too and now we have parent guilt and a real fear that we are letting our children down.

Here are three truths I want to say loud and clear without any ambiguity:

  1. Your child will learn to read when they are ready.
  2. It is not a race.
  3. You are an excellent parent because you are reading this right now.

Now that we have that cleared up, let’s dive into the 2 key ingredients to teaching your child how to read. Time and patience.

Invest time into showing a toddler how to read

Dad teaching son how to read a book by looking at a book at a table
Learning to read is more than learning words. By showing children the intrinsic value of reading, you are raising lifelong readers.

Before a child can even start to read words, they need to be able to hear, identify, and manipulate parts of spoken (oral) language, also called phonological awareness. The best way to teach a toddler phonological awareness is by exposing them to vocabulary and speech as much as possible. A child hears the most varied amount of words through books, especially books that rhyme and have a rhythmic cadence.

Yes, talking to your toddler is very important, but conversational speech does not expose children to the rare and knowledge words found in books needed to build their vocabulary. Did you know that children’s books contain more rare words than primetime shows for adults? Children’s books also contain more words than a college graduate’s conversational speech. This is why reading is critical to early literacy during the early childhood years.

By reading to your child, it shows them that books contain information they can’t find in their everyday life. Reading books also show toddlers how to find enjoyment out of it. Have you ever been asked to do something you weren’t sure how to do? Most of us will procrastinate or even dread doing it because we aren’t equipped with the right tools or information to successfully execute it. When you show children the joys and benefits of reading, they will naturally want to learn how to read because it’s fun. They will love when you read to them, but will want to be able to find information on their own eventually. When you read to your toddler, you are showing them the intrinsic value of reading.

Like planting a garden, to teach a toddler to read requires patience

Parents on the couch teach a toddler to read by reading them a storybook at home in the living room
Teach a toddler to read by reading together and making reading a lifestyle. Families who read together, grow together!

I can’t think of a better comparison to teach a toddler to read than planting a seed in your garden. After all, we are raising readers and not manufacturing readers. Reading is not an instant process. Reading requires a lot of TLC and nurturing on our part as our children’s first and best teachers. When we read to our children, we are empowering them by passing on the key to the past, present, and future version of their world as they would like to see it.

To have patience requires us to lower our expectations. Every child develops at their own pace, even children that are born from the same exact parents. Especially for new parents, it’s okay to look at other children’s development to use as a benchmark. When you use that benchmark to set expectations, then that becomes unhealthy comparison because your child is unique.

Reading should be enjoyable and agenda-free. I don’t think anyone likes to be tested on something they thought they were doing for fun. Use reading time to engage playfully and creatively. A reading session isn’t the time to be quizzing.

It’s important to be armed with helpful and healthy information on how to teach your toddler to read. It should feel natural and empowering. Below are tips on how to choose age appropriate books to get your toddler excited about reading.

How to Choose the Right Books for My Toddler

Mom teaching a toddler to read with an exciting and captivating book
Choose books with an interesting cover and title, exciting images, brief text, among other tips to capture a toddler’s attention.

When your child was an infant, you could probably read ANY book to them, and you still had a captivated audience. Now that your toddler is mobile and discovering they have choices, you will need to find books that will capture their attention. To teach a toddler to read is to show them that books are fun and exciting. Below is a book selection checklist to help you find toddler-friendly books that are interesting!

  • Choose books with an intriguing title
  • Illustrations should be attention-getting
  • Characters are exciting and relatable
  • Fast-paced action and fun
  • Each page contains a sentence or two for brevity
  • Contains words that rhyme or are funny
  • Contains words or phrases that are repeated

How to read to a toddler

Read the cover to capture your toddler’s attention

If you’ve been skipping the cover of the book, you’re skipping the most important part. Part of teaching a toddler how to read includes learning parts of a book. Like the beginning of a good persuasive essay, a book’s most important part is the cover. Publishing houses and illustrators spend a lot of time on making sure the cover is attention grabbing. They add little details that are often overlooked. Grab your child’s attention by having them pay attention to a detail on the cover. Ask your child a question about the cover or ask them to make a prediction on what the book might be about.

Reading time is the time to let your dramatics shine

Parents are multi-talented superheroes. Show your child your drama skills by whipping out the voice over accents and overly enthusiastic voice to captivate your audience. When you use this technique, you can make an okay book into a crowd pleaser.

Engage in active reading by getting your child involved

Toddlers love to get involved. Reading should be an active activity – not a passive one as most commonly thought. If you’re reading the same book again, have your child fill in the words. Ask questions suggesting an alternate scenario using “what if” questions. Use props to reenact the story. Just because you reached the end of the book, it doesn’t mean the story is over! Play extension activities based on the story to extend learning.

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