Why you should teach your toddler to read

teach your toddler to read

You do not have to wait until your child is in school to train literacy.  From birth, your child is already gathering the skills they will need to read.  Your child enters a critical reading stage between 3 to 5 years of age.  This is the period when you should increase your child’s exposure to reading.  


Reading to your child is the first step towards literacy.  When you read to your child, you are exposing him or her to a language.  The more times they listen to the language, the faster their ability to learn this language.   Reading is also an opportunity for you to develop a close bond with your child. 

Many learning problems in school can be fixed if reading starts in the toddler and pre-school years.  Reading is an important step to developing an independent learner and thinker who can perform well in school when they are older.

Early literacy skills for toddlers

From 1 to 3 years, kids make a big leap in learning.  At this age, they learn about letters, shapes, colours, animals, flavours, and seasons.  This is also the age they start participating in celebrations and playing with other children.  Your toddler will also learn many of their basic life skills including feeding and dressing, putting away their toys, setting the table, grooming and toilet training. 

This is the best time to read aloud to your child and to get him or her to participate in some reading activities.  

Before your child can read, he or she will need some basic literacy skills. These skills include: 

  • Knowledge of the alphabets
  • A sufficient vocabulary of words and knowing how to use these words
  • An understanding that words are made up of sounds (phonemic awareness)
  • Ability to recognise letters and words

Many of these skills are acquired through reading.  

When and how to read to your toddler

how to read to your toddler

At the toddler stage, reading can become a fun activity that your child can participate in. Ideally, you should read to your child at least once a day during their toddler years. 


Pick a regular time to read to your toddler.  Bedtime and nap times are good for reading. Of course, you can also read to your child whenever he or she is in the mood.  


When reading to a toddler, hold him or her to your lap so they can feel secure and relaxed.  


Toddlers love to do things themselves so let them choose their favourite storybook to read.  Encourage them to hold the book and help them turn the pages.  Pick a book that is filled with colourful pictures.  Point out letters and words to them and get them to look for pictures they can identify.   When you come to a familiar phrase or rhyme in the book, pause and let your child finish it.  The more you get him or her involved in reading, the more pleasure they will derive from it.  Along the way, they learn the essential literacy skills that will help them become independent readers later. 

Do I have to get my toddler to sit still during reading?

If your toddler can sit still while you are reading, that is excellent but sitting still during reading is not a requirement.  If you have a precocious 3-year old who likes to run around while you read, don’t punish them if they do not want to sit still.  Reading to a child who is not paying attention can be frustrating but if you persevere you will be able to overcome this obstacle.


If your toddler has lost interest, stop reading.  You can return to it later.  Leave the book out so they can explore it.   The idea is to encourage positive associations with reading. Make the reading activity fun by encouraging your toddler to choose their favourite book.  Get them to point to letters and pictures they recognise. Ask them to finish the story for you. 


Reading before bedtime creates a routine for your toddler.  Holding your child while you read to them helps them feel secure and loved.  The sound of your voice adds a soothing effect and sets the tone that they should be winding down for sleep. 


At this stage, do not worry about your toddler’s attention span.  Their attention span will increase as they grow older.  It is okay to let them play with their favourite toys or to do colouring while you are reading to them. 

Reading tips for toddlers

We asked our teachers and parents for their reading tips for toddlers.  Here are some of the things they recommend:


  • Let your toddler choose the book to read
  • Choose titles that your toddler can relate to (For example, books about grandparents, pets, animals they love and so forth)
  • Read slowly and so they can hear the words and understand the story
  • Use expressions when reading to create character and drama
  • Use props when reading (for example soft toys or finger puppets)
  • Turn reading time into storytelling time
  • Stop when you come to a familiar phrase or rhyme and let your toddler finish it
  • Make reading a game by letting them spot letters, pictures, or colour they recognise
  • Swap the names of characters in the book with names of friends or family members 
  • Encourage your toddler to sing and clap along when you are reading
  • Make books available to your toddler by leaving them on an easy to reach bookcase
  • Visit the library and bookstore.  Let them choose the books they want to take home to read
  • A little television once in a while does not hurt, particularly if they are watching an educational programme that has a reading activity in it
  • Have fun and enjoy


Books for toddlers

Curate your library collection carefully for your toddler.

Younger toddlers (12-24 months) – Board books with pictures of children doing everyday things.  Books about animals, bedtime, bath time, mealtime, or family holidays.  Or books about people they know in their lives for example books about grandparents, siblings, mom and dad or friends in playschool.  Keep active hands and minds busy with lift-the-flap pages and textures.  

Older toddlers (24-36 months) – At this age, kids are becoming aware of print awareness i.e. how to turn pages, where the front or back of the book is, where the title is located and so forth.  Kids are also beginning to understand the mechanics of reading.  Older toddlers like books that are repetitive and easy to memorise and like to pretend to read aloud when you read to them. 

For more information on print awareness, please read our blogs here


Other ways to teach literacy to toddlers

Apart from reading regularly to your toddler other things you can do include:

  • Sing songs and play rhyming games together
  • Talk to your child in clear and easy to understand tones
  • Play word games with your child (For example pointing out letters when you are out)
  • Give your toddler colouring books with letters and numbers to colour
  • Play alphabet games with them (Read our blogs for alphabet game ideas here)

Reading to your toddler can be fun and explorative.  It is the start of their journey to becoming an independent learner.   As your child starts transitioning from saying their first words to forming sentences, you will start to see amazing milestones develop with reading. Don’t forget to read our next article on ‘How to help your pre-schooler read’.  


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