Toddlers are great at many things, but sitting still and listening for an extended period of time often isn’t the biggest strength for children Baby’s age. However, storytime is important for toddlers – it’s a great opportunity for both learning and bonding, as well as a great habit to put in place for later.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents of young children that reading aloud and talking about the pictures and words in age-appropriate books can strengthen language skills, literacy development, and parent-child relationships. Unfortunately, reading alone doesn’t make these benefits happen – you have to get and keep your toddler’s attention first. While it’s perfectly normal for toddlers to want to explore instead of listen, there are a few things you can do to encourage your squirmy toddler to stay more engaged during storytime.
- Make it interactive: Stories made up only of words, for toddlers to listen to passively, can be difficult to use to keep a toddler’s attention. Instead, look for books that include an element of play. Lift-the-flap books, for example, give Baby the opportunity to use his hands to find different objects and images in the story. Keep him interested by encouraging him to tell you what he has found. Texture books are great, too – he can enjoy exploring the way things feel on each page, and connecting the feelings with the words in the book as you verbalize the corresponding word while he runs his hand along the page: soft, bumpy, etc.
- Don’t fight the inevitable: During story time, it’s to be expected that Baby will want to get up and move around, so work with him instead of forcing him to sit down. If you’re reading a story about animals, ask him to act like the animal in the story, either by making the sound or crawling on the floor. As long as he is listening and attentive, it doesn’t matter much whether he is sitting still.
- Keep expectations reasonable: Toddlers’ attention spans are short, so keep that in mind when you’re choosing books to read. Most books geared toward toddlers are repetitive, rhyming, and, above all, brief. There’s a good reason for this. The word-play of these stories is fun and funny for them to listen to, and the fact that these stories are so short allows toddlers to listen along for just long enough before losing interest. Some day, Baby’ll be ready for it, but for now, save Gone With the Wind until after bedtime.
- Have fun: Use silly voices, movements, or whatever means it takes to keep him laughing along and enjoying the story. Fun for Baby may mean reading the same two books on repeat, and that’s okay. Remember, practice makes perfect, and reading the same story night after night gives you plenty of time to perfect those animal noises!
- “How to Introduce Toddlers and Babies to Books.” Zero to Three. ZERO TO THREE: Foundation for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, February 15 2016. Web.
- “Why It Is Never Too Early To Start Reading With Your Baby.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2015. Web.