Reading Strategies for Babies/Toddlers

by Jennifer Polk, MA, Ed.

The first and most important strategy for helping your child to learn to love reading is to make it a fun learning experience. Here are some suggested strategies to help create this experience.

Picking the Right Book

Reading TimeThere are a few things to keep in mind when choosing books for babies and toddlers. At this developmental stage, children are very tactile and are only just acquiring language. So touch and feel types of books are great. Pat the Bunny is one that I highly suggest. It’s not only a tactile book but it also tells a story. Pick books that have real life pictures. For example, there are plenty of books on farm animals but most are illustrated with drawings or cartoons. You want books that have photographs of real farm animals.

Have your child help with the selection of the book. Make sure the book is age appropriate. It is very easy to pick a book that the toddler will not understand.

Exposure, exposure, and more exposure! Read all different types of genres: fairytales/fables, how-to books, informational, historical, etc…

Explain about each genre: “Tonight we are going to read a fable called The Lion and the Mouse. You can tell it is a fable because the animals talk and there is usually a lesson to be learned.” This would be appropriate for toddlers. As your child gets older, you can make a game of it and ask him what type of story he thinks it might be. Have lots of books on hand. Get to know your local librarian; it will save you tons of money.

Teach Appropriate Book Handling Etiquette

Model how to hold a book, turn pages, and teach your child the do’s and don’ts of good reading behaviors. Always teach children respect for books. Example:


  • Point to pages
  • Touch pages
  • Turn pages
  • Fold the book closed when finished reading
  • Look, show, and talk about the pictures
  • Draw pictures from the book on paper


  • Tear the pages
  • Color on the pages
  • Sit, stand, or roll on the book
  • Throw books
  • Eat or drink near books
  • Eat or chew on books (books made from fabric are made for teething infants to mouth, however)

Make Predictions About the Book

An example from Pat the Bunny: “Wow, I see a bunny on the cover of this book. I bet this book is about a bunny.” After a while you can have your child make the prediction. As you read the book, have your child revise their prediction, but model it first.

Go for a Picture Walk

Before reading the book go through the book and just look at the pictures and make predictions of what the story is going to be about. This is getting your child ready for the reading time. Her mind is already thinking about the story.

Build Up Their Endurance

Your child’s ability to sit and listen to a story depends on her attention span. If you are just beginning to read to your baby, start off with just one short book. If the baby indicates she wants another one, go with it. After reading her a single book over three sessions, add another book or start picking longer books. My daughter is five and I read her five long books at night and right before her rest time. That’s ten books a day! She is in the beginning stage of reading, so I’m starting to read shorter books with smaller words and having her sound out the small words. You know your child. If he seems to be getting tired or to lose interest, stop. Don’t force the books on him; just pick it up another time. Maybe change the book. Make it part of a routine.

Use Different Voices for Characters

Pick books that have sounds incorporated into them. Great suggestion: Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? Really jazz up the sounds and both your toddler or baby will want you to read the book over and over. Reading the same book more then once is also a great thing to do.

When my daughter was three, she brought me Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? She told me she knew how to read and then from memory she recited the whole book. This is a major pre-reading skill that you want to encourage. Books that have repetitive phrases like this one help the child build up her memory skills and her confidence. They also help her to make the connection between what she is saying and the words on the page.

Expanding Your Child’s Vocabulary and Language Skills

One can do this in a couple of different ways. First, for babies: when reading a story, point at objects in the pictures and then have your child point to them. As time goes on, he will start saying the words and making the connection between words and pictures.

Here is an example from Goodnight Moon: The book reads, “The cow jumped over the moon.” Ask your child, “Where is that cow?” Then, point to the cow. “Oh, there is the cow.” As time goes on, after you have modeled this, ask the baby where things are. For example, the same book reads, “In the great green room, there was a telephone.” Say to your child, “Point to the telephone.” Your baby will point to the telephone. As her verbal skills increase, begin asking her to identify objects in the pictures. Your baby will sometimes point out random objects in a book. This is her non-verbal way of saying, “What is this?”

For the toddler, there are two great ways to increase language. The first is asking questions while you read. (This will be explained below). The second way to increase vocabulary is by “language embedding.” When a child doesn’t know what a word means, have the child try and figure it out by looking at the pictures or listening to the sentence for clues.

For example, in a little book called The Street Cleaner, the lady street cleaner says: “If somebody drops litter … I pick it up.” There is a picture of a boy dropping a peanut bag on the street and, on the next page, a picture of the frowning street cleaner picking it up, following the boy and saying, “Excuse me, I think you dropped this.” Ask the toddler, “What do you think the word ‘litter’ means?” If they guess wrong say, “Let’s look at the pictures. What is the boy doing here? He’s dropping paper in the street. What is happening here? The street cleaner has to pick it up to keep the street clean. Look at her face. She isn’t happy.” What is litter? Litter is paper that is dropped in the street instead of in the trash. Don’t be surprised when your toddler starts using this new word in everyday speech.

Comprehensive Questions/Expanding Language

Throughout the book, you can ask comprehensive questions about the text and pictures. This will get your child to begin thinking critically about what is being read to her. This is not a time for interrogation. There is a fine line between the two. Here is an example:

Three Bears

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

  • What do you think the story is going to be about?
  • Why do you think her name is Goldilocks? (Refer to picture)
  • Who are the papa bear, mama bear, and baby bear? (Refer to picture) How do you know this?
  • How do you know whose bowl is whose? (Refer to picture)
  • How do you think the baby bear feels about his broken chair?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • How do you think Goldilocks is going to feel when they find her?
  • Do you think it was a good idea that Goldilocks went into the house and did the things she did?
  • Why do you think this?
  • If you were Goldilocks, what would you do?

Have the Child Retell the Story

Ask what part is her favorite and why? Ask what part she didn’t like and why? As your toddler gets to be preschool age, you can start pointing out many other things. Letters make up words. Words make up a sentence. Sentences relate an idea or a message. This is a period, question mark, and exclamation mark. A period tells the reader this is the end of a sentence or idea. A question mark lets the reader know this is a question. An exclamation mark lets the reader know they need to be excited about this sentence.

Point out the author: this is the person who wrote the book. Likewise with the illustrator; this is the person who drew the pictures. Identifying parts of the book is important, too. Point out the front of a book, back of the book, title page, table of contents, index, dedication, glossary, and book preview.

Your child may not remember all of these things but it is all about exposure. The more exposure your child gets, the more he will learn. You can make a game out of it. After modeling the parts of a book you can say, “Let’s play a game. I bet you can’t show me where the back of the book is, the front, the table of contents etc…”

Last but not least, remember that the more enthusiastic you are about a book, the more excited and engaged your child will be.

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