How to build a love of books and reading

If you love books it’s natural to want to build that interest in your little ones too! The good news is that from your Tot’s youngest days you can start exposing them to books and build a love of literature. Here’s how…

Little girl lying on bed surrounded by books
Photo: JGI/Jamie Grill

The key is to always make reading fun! Reading should never be a task that must be done, but rather, an enjoyable activity. That might look different for every Tot because each Tot has his/her own attention span and interests. However, there are certain things you can do to help cultivate a lifetime love of books and reading:

  • Make time to read books every day.
  • Let your Tot explore books on his/her own (board books might be best for this). Don’t worry if your Tot chews on the pages. It’s all part of the learning process.
  • As your Tot grows, allow him/her to select the books for you to read.
  • Re-read favorite books and discover new books together.
  • Let your Tot hold the book and turn the pages while you read.
  • Show your own excitement about books.

How to read to your Tot

When you read to your Tot, you are spending quality time together, providing an engaging activity, and setting an example of reading for your Tot. There is a lot more that goes into reading than just decoding words, so here are a few tips for making the most out of your reading experiences together: (Note: You do NOT need to do ALL of these every time you read! Pick one or two because your Tot will lose focus at a young age.)

  • Get excited about reading: Show your enthusiasm for reading and your Tot will share that enthusiasm!
  • Predict: Look at the cover of the book and ask your Tot, “What do you think this book is about?” Then, talk aloud as you model making a prediction. Do this throughout the reading as well.
  • Use the illustrations for information: While pointing to the illustrations, make observations aloud for your Tot.
  • Point out patterns, repetition, and rhymes as you read. For example, say, “Did you hear those rhyming words? Bell and shell! They rhyme!” or “Do you hear the pattern in this book? Every page says, “What do you hear?”
  • Read with expression: Basically, you don’t want to sound like a robot! Read conversations with emotion and use different voices for characters such as a Southern Belle and a French Chef. Change your pitch and tone to make the story interesting.
  • After reading, summarize the book for your Tot. Then, ask questions like, “What happened after X?” or “Can you name some of the animals that were in this book?” If your Tot is not yet verbal, then answer the questions yourself.

How to choose books for your Tot

There are so many books out there it can be hard to know where to start and children of different ages will be stimulated by different aspects of books. However, generally;

  • for very small babies choose books that have either black and white or high contrast images – newborns don’t have well developed eyesight and contrast will stand out best for them
  • for small babies and toddlers try books that have textural elements like fuzzy, furry or rough elements. Your Tot will enjoy touching and engaging with the pages.
  • similarly, toddlers often love “lift the flap” style books where they can guess at what’s going to be underneath the flap.
  • if you toddler is particularly fixated on something (e.g. trucks, dogs, fairies) choose books with those types of characters. It doesn’t matter that their focus is narrow, sooner or later they’ll grow out of it. The main thing is to engage them with books!
  • don’t worry if your toddler becomes obsessed with one book and wants to hear it again and again. Keep offering them other choices but don’t insist if they just want to hear their favorite, one day they’ll decide they’re ready for something new.