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Reading to Active Toddlers

Q. My 18-month-old used to love to look at books. Now he's so busy running around that he doesn't want to sit still to read. I'm worried that my son won't grow up to be a reader.

A. Toddlers delight in what their bodies can do -- walking, running, jumping, sliding. So it's perfectly normal that sitting still to hear a story may not be at the top of your son's list. But if you can't beat 'em, join 'em: Instead of expecting him to sit down to read a story, incorporate reading into activities. What's most important for developing early literacy skills is a love of books. It doesn't matter whether your son holds the book upside down, always picks the same two books, or does somersaults as you read to him.

First, look for books that feature actions or motions. For example, there are several storybook versions of the "Wheels on the Bus" song that you and your child can act out together.

Instead of reading a story, tell your child a tale -- that way, your son can run around while you spin a yarn. You can crib from your child's favorite books or pull from your own childhood exploits. You'll also find that your toddler loves to hear about when he was a little baby, "once upon a time, very long ago."

Singing and playing music can also foster your son's love of words, sounds, and rhyme. Look for songs that are conducive to dancing, marching, spinning, and bouncing.

Claire Lerner, LCSW, is a child development specialist at Zero to Three, a national nonprofit promoting the healthy development of babies and toddlers (zerotothree.org).

Originally published in American Baby magazine, April 2004.