You wonder if you’re overly concerned about your toddler’s intellectual development. Hey, you want to make sure she can hold her own against the other kids in preschool and beyond. Actually, you’re right on track. An astounding rate of learning occurs in the first 36 months of a child’s life, according to Donna McClintock, chief operating officer of Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc. When you make books part of your child’s world, her cognitive development gets a jump start.
Reading to a toddler is first and foremost about creating a pleasurable experience. If she loves reading right from the start, she’ll become a lifelong learner and have the desire to explore, McClintock says. Read to her on her timeline. Does she only want to read a portion of the book? That’s okay. Get back to it later. Remember -- reading is more enjoyable for her when you interact during book time.
Toddlers make sense of their world by learning names of things in their daily environment from picture books. Board books withstand toddler’s chews and bites. They have real-life pictures and only three to eight words of text per page. Deborah Watson, academic program manager of early childhood education at Post University in Connecticut, recommends books with familiar characters like Barney and Big Bird. Your child loves it when she has lyrics to sing and verses to repeat. Books of the same theme help her categorize and organize words she’s learning. Read predictable books and she’ll babble along with you. Shapes, colors, letters and numbers grab a toddler’s attention. You’ll have a little genius on your hands in no time!
Books that stimulate more than one sense at the same time provide the most cognitive benefit, according to Nicole and Damir Fonovich, co-creators of “Luca Lashes,” a series of multilingual e-books and apps. Kids love books that “do stuff.” They get excited when objects are hidden under flaps. This helps them understand cognitive skills such as object permanence -- the object is still there, even if it cannot be seen. Whether it’s a pop-up book or has moving parts, your child’s interest will spike. This is why e-books also have a place in a toddler's world.
Is your child already showing an interest in specific areas? Offer multiple books that cater to her interests. If she loves art, provide art experiences as well as books that show toddlers creating works of art, recommends McClintock. If you have a wide selection of books, she’ll choose the ones she enjoys. Remember, children love repetition, so it’s fine to read the same book repeatedly, even if you do see it in your sleep! Children feel empowered when they can predict what is going to happen next in a story line.
One of a toddler’s favorite things to do is act out a character or jump off your lap to go find her Big Bird stuffed animal. Let her explore, advises Watson. After all, she is making connections between the book and her real world. When you encourage interactions with books, you are helping her think abstractly. If you go to the beach, get beach books from the library. Take her to the zoo, a nearby park or the grocery store to enrich her experiences, then read related books to help her develop a meaningful vocabulary.