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The One Thing You Can Do For Your Toddler That Can Make All The Difference In Their Life

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Toddler moms have plenty to worry about. There are the practicalities of potty training, sleeping through the night, and getting them to eat something besides carbohydrates. Little ones are busy meeting new milestones, like walking and climbing, and their vocabularies seem to grow daily. While they're at it, parents are encouraging them to share and take turns. Basically, moms are just trying not to raise jerks. Everyone wants their kid to turn out awesome, right? Well, there's one thing you can do for your toddler that can make all the difference in their life, and it's actually pretty easy: read aloud every day.

I was raised in a family of readers, and mom read aloud to us girls from the rocking chair every night of our young lives.

I don't remember learning to read. It just happened, through what I can only assume was literary osmosis. There was no phonics instruction or drilling of letters (although that's not to say some children don't need that). Rather, I lived in a literature rich environment with books, newspapers, magazines, and all kinds of other print materials. My grandma was an elementary school librarian. I was raised in a family of readers, and mom read aloud to us girls from the rocking chair every night of our young lives. I entered kindergarten knowing how to read without every having touched a reading curriculum.

Courtesy of Kimmie Fink

As an elementary school teacher, I knew that I wanted that "whole language" approach to inform my teaching. I had a little reading corner with bean bag chairs and the same rocking chair my mom used with me. Even with the pressure of standards and high-stakes testing, I kept reading aloud as a sacred time. I loved to read with the children at my feet, listening attentively and occasionally stroking my stockinged leg. My students benefited from the advanced vocabulary in books I read to them, as well as content to which they might not otherwise be exposed if left to their own devices.

Even with the pressure of standards and high-stakes testing, I kept reading aloud as a sacred time.

Of course my experiences as an emerging reader and teacher are anecdotal, but research agrees with me: reading aloud to your child has incredible benefits. First, it gives that growing brain a big cognitive boost by building neural connections for language. It promotes longer attention span, better listening skills, and imaginative thinking. Reading is an excellent way to increase communication between you and your toddler and build their receptive vocabulary. Then there's the content! What your child reads will help them learn colors, numbers, shapes and letters. When they're older, books can help them understand relationships and navigate unfamiliar situations. Add to all that the fact that being read to early on is associated with greater school success, and you have a pretty convincing argument.

Courtesy of Kimmie Fink

Need more motivation? In my opinion, the best part about daily reading is that it associates books with love. Reading aloud to your toddler can strengthen your bond, and a secure, attached child is a happy, well-adjusted one. It's time you specifically take out of your hectic day to devote your undivided attention to your child. What toddler doesn't crave that? Whereas you had lots of snuggle time with a relatively inert newborn, it can be hard to catch those cuddles with your on-the-move toddler. When you put your child in your lap for story time, you get to physically reconnect. When a kid develops warm fuzzies about reading, they're much more likely to develop a lifelong habit, and love, of reading.

Reading is an excellent way to increase communication between you and your toddler and build their receptive vocabulary.

So how do you raise a reader? Ensure that your child sees you read. Make many books available at their physical level (think about small board books for little hands and low shelves for easy access). Go to the library for story time and check out books. And, of course, read aloud. Talk about the parts of the book. Let your child gently turn the pages. Ask questions about what's going on in the pictures. Have them identify animals or objects they recognize by pointing or naming. Encourage prediction ("What do you think will happen to the snowball in Peter's pocket?"). Little one can't respond verbally? Answer yourself. In the end, you're modeling language.

Courtesy of Kimmie Fink

In my house, reading aloud takes place sporadically during the day and then every evening without fail. My daughter has her own bookshelf in her room. She likes to peruse them at her leisure and "read" to herself. After awhile, she'll come out with one that she wants me to read and announce, "Bo!" That's my cue to read Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? Toddlers love repetition (and it's good for their development), so I know I'm in for two to three renditions. (I'm no saint. I fully admit to hiding The Littlest Bunny in Texas in the guest room closet.)

I can't imagine I will ever regret time I spent reading to my precious child. It is, after all, an investment in her future.
Courtesy of Kimmie Fink

Bedtime, however, is the best. After bath, pajamas, teeth brushing, and saying goodnight to Daddy, we have our special time together. She snuggles up next to me, and we read. Board books, picture books, bilingual books, and borrowed books are all in our repertoire. Like Olivia in her beloved book of the same name, she always begs for mommy to read just one more, and I usually relent. I can't imagine I will ever regret time I spent reading to my precious child. It is, after all, an investment in her future.