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Reading With Squirrels

You know all those times you try and read books to squirrels? But instead they just climb on your head for a better view, then they try to eat the book. Once you wrestle it out of their grasp and start to read, they point at the pictures and want to know what everything is, even if it’s not part of the story, or they want to skip all the pages so you don’t get to read the story. So, you finally give up and you both go get a snack?

Wait--no-- I am thinking of Toddlers!!! Those are all things that happen when you try and read to Toddlers! It’s true, reading to Toddlers can be a challenge, but it’s also a rewarding experience that has many benefits. I am here to give you a few tips for making your Toddler reading time successful.

First of all, let go of all your expectations. Yes, the book comes with a great story already inside. Realize you may not read that story, at least not all at once, or this time around. When you sit down to a Toddler story time the printed story is optional. The experience will be the most successful if you let the Toddler take the lead. Let them pick the book, let them hold the book, even let them turn the pages. Board books are good because they are sturdy, but even an 18 month old can learn to be gentle with the pages of a regular book with practice. And if an accident happens, that is what tape is for. For teachers in a small group setting, you can hold the book and give each child their own board book to hold and manipulate. This is a great opportunity to learn how books work and the basic concepts of print, key developmental milestones.

So now we are sitting together and holding books, let’s start reading, right? Not so fast! Let’s take a moment to turn the pages and look at the pictures. This is actually called a “Picture Walk” and it’s a time when you can give the child a small preview of the story. They may have questions, or suggestions about the pictures, or you can ask them what they think is happening. You might even remind them that you could start at the beginning and find out. Or they might decide that the Picture Walk is the end of their story time. Remember, Toddlers are busy people with lots to do. You can always come back to the story later.

If it feels like a good time to start reading, go ahead. For a successful story time, use a voice with lots of inflection and energy, be animated with your facial expression as well. The children are listening to the story, but they are also watching you, your excitement will help keep them engaged. Pro tip- you do not have to read every word that is printed on the page. If you feel you are losing their interest, or the story is going on too long, you can abridge, keep up the pace so you don’t lose your audience. Trust me, you will have more than one opportunity to read this story. Honestly, for this age range, I love books with no words such as Tuesday by David Wiesner or limited words, such as 10 Minutes To Bedtime by Peggy Rathmann. These books allow you the freedom to focus on the illustrations and make the story as long or as short as needed and tell a new story every time!! One book that tells many stories-what a bargain!!

When you have successfully finished the story, now what? Chances are you might be asked to read the story again. “Again” or the baby sign for “more” are common first words and children love to use them. Go ahead, read it again. If you are feeling bored of the same story, try focusing on a different aspect, see if you can find something new in the illustrations, or use a silly voice for a particular character. Children learn a lot from repeated exposure so try not to discourage their need for repetition.

The benefits of reading aloud with children are myriad. Sitting together with you they are increasing neural connections through the release of oxytocin (the "attachment" hormone) and building their social-emotional skills. By handling the book, they are starting to recognize the concepts of print and learn how a book “works”. By listening to you read they are building vocabulary skills, and through conversations about the book they are building their receptive and expressive language skills.

Reading with Toddlers can have a lot in common with reading with squirrels, but with patience and experience your reading time with Toddlers can be much more beneficial than reading with squirrels. There is one thing that remains the same, you absolutely should have a snack afterwards.

Wonderful Picture Book to Read with Toddlers:

Tuesday by David Wiesner

A Boy, A Dog and A Frog by Mercer Mayer

The Complete Adventures of the Mole Sisters by Roslyn Schwartz

10 Minutes Till Bedtime by Peggy Rathmann

Book suggestions for Parents/Teachers:

David Wiesner & the Art of Wordless Storytelling published by The Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Wordless/Almost Wordless Picture Books by Virginia Richey

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