By Julie Stevens, SLP
What parent doesn’t love the idea of sitting with their infant or toddler and snuggling in to listen to a great story book? Perhaps one from your own childhood such as a Dr. Suess title or Goodnight Moon…..yet this magical moment of reading to your child falls apart as soon as he or she squirms out of your lap onto the floor, tries to eat the book, or even grabs and throws the book down.
Infants and toddlers typically do not want to sit very long for story time. They are more interested in turning the pages in the book and looking at the exciting pictures they see. It is important to know that this is typical for young children. This is how they are exploring and learning about what books are. However, there are several ways to still make story time a fun learning experience for both you and your child.
First, try sitting with your child on the floor with him/her sitting in front of you. Let him hold the book and look at the pages while you narrate what pictures you see. Cardboard picture books are great for this. Paperback books with thin pages are hard for children to turn and they tear easily. When your child pauses on a page you can say things like “look, a cow! Moo” or use single words to label the pictures, “cat.” It is important to say the words several times. Try pointing to the picture and say “ball! I see a ball.” If there are several pictures of the same object, point to each picture and say the same word, “ball” (pause then point to other ball picture) “ball” (pause then point to other ball picture) “ball.” This is call auditory bombardment. Your child hears the same word several times which helps them understand the meaning and generalize the word to different types of balls. Avoid asking “What’s this?” and “What’s that?” as your child points to pictures. At this stage your child most likely can’t answer those questions and often we hear children saying the words “this” or “that” when pointing to pictures randomly in books because they heard the questions being asked so many times that they started to think the photos were labeled as “this” and “that” instead of a “ball” or “cat”. So label pictures FOR your child so he/she can learn what the pictures really mean. With your child sitting in front of you it also gives them the opportunity to look at you when they hear you labeling the pictures. This allows them to see how your mouth is making the sounds in the word. Trying holding the book up to your face if he/she lets you (book under your chin or next to your face).
If your child enjoys music you can try making the book a song activity. If there are animals in the book you can use “Old McDonald” to talk about the animals and their sounds. Even if they are not farm animals, your child will not care! It is a fun way to engage them in a book while pointing to the animals and singing “and on his farm he had a monkey! Ooh ooh ah ah! E-I-E-I-O” Even better than that, make up your own song!
Young children often enjoy lift the flap books as well. This is another way to engage children who are not interested in books yet. It adds an element of surprise and makes the book more interactive. Try using phrases like “shhh, who’s hiding?” “a dog!”
Some children respond to books differently depending on the time of day. After chasing a sibling around the house or rough housing with dad might not be the best time to try to sit your toddler down to read. Try picking a quiet time of day when your toddler is playing quietly, after meal time, or after a bath and before bed to look at a book together.
The “moral of the story” is that infants and toddlers typically enjoy looking at pictures in books with a caregiver talking about the pictures. It is not important to read the lines on each page. What is more important is the time looking and talking about the pictures together. Books are a great way to bond with your child while also building their vocabulary. Any book time with your child will teach them to love books and reading. Happy Reading!