Nurture an early love of books and help your kids do better in school by exposing them to reading at every stage. As a toddler, your child's coordination improves; she'll begin making marks on a page, a critical stage in her reading readiness. "Drawing and pretend writing help your child grasp the complex process of reading," says J. Richard Gentry, Ph.D., author of Raising Confident Readers. You can help: Provide easy access to crayons, markers, and other drawing materials. And ask her to make a picture to go with a story she likes -- not a copy, but her interpretation.
Get our best tips for encouraging a toddler's love of books.
Run your finger beneath the print on a page as you read. Your child will start to realize that the sounds you make come from the letters she sees.
Ask questions that will evoke a thoughtful response ("Why do you think he feels so angry?"). Explain new words and concepts, but try to keep the story flowing.
Visit a noisy park or a quiet corner of your neighborhood. Instruct your child to let you know when he hears a noise. Then have him mimic the sound and try it write it down (as you coach him to "sound it out").
Prepare food that relates to the story you're reading. Have your child make pancakes with you when you read If You Give a Pig a Pancake, or munch on thick slices of toast with jelly as you turn the pages of Bread and Jam for Frances.
The next time you take out The Very Hungry Caterpillar, create antennae using pom-poms, a headband, and pipe cleaners. Have your child wear it every time you read the books.
If your child won't sit still and listen while you read, see whether keeping her hands busy with a crayon and paper reduces her fidgeting. "Even adults doodle when they talk on the phone," says Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook.
Yes, TV can help with reading. As your child watches Dora the Explorer, activate the closed-caption feature. Over time she may start to connect the dialogue with the words.
A reading space needn't be fancy, just cozy. A corner with pillows, stuffed animals, and a book basket will do fine to encourage your toddler's reading.
When selecting books to read to a toddler, keep these four tips in mind:
1. Choose books with simple text a child can memorize as she begins to recognize words.
2. Broaden kids' horizons by picking books with new characters (such as the clever pig from My Lucky Day) and settings (such as Botswana, where Honey ... Honey ... Lion! takes place).
3. Select stories about making friends, going to school, or visiting the doctor.
4. Choose more complex tales for read-alouds.
Originally published in the April 2010 issue of Parents magazine.