Reading with my toddler has become such a sweet time for us to share together. However, to someone on the outside looking in, reading with a toddler looks like a disaster.

There are times when my son sits on my lap and listens to an entire story. More often than not though, he’s flipping through his own book, playing with a puzzle or another toy, or even walking in circles around me.

This is normal and it’s okay.

Reading with a toddler looks like a disaster: here's what to expect. Image of toddler hiding behing a wall with their feet sticking out. Toys strewn across the floor.

The information in this post will help you to understand the benefits of reading with your toddler and also help you to feel less stressed about your reading time together. I’m sharing all of the sweet (and also the potentially chaotic) things you can expect while you read with a toddler. Relax. This time is special and it will help you to build a lasting bond with your little one.

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Why is it Important to Read to Babies and Toddlers?

The 1985 Commission on Reading declared, “The single most important activity for building knowledge required for eventual success is reading aloud to children.” The information shared in their report remains true for children today.

Reading aloud with your kids helps you to build a special connection with them. This bond will allow you to talk about difficult or exciting experiences with your child in a more comfortable, easy setting. It’s also a fun way to create inside jokes! Our family will quote books in silly situations and it never fails to give us a good laugh.

It teaches him better vocabulary compared to simply having a conversation with a child. The language used in books is proven to be more advanced than the words we use in everyday speech.

Children will experience different cultures, learn about weather he might not see where he lives (Hello! Where are my fellow Floridians? Snow?), and begin to get a taste for sports or healthy foods. Reading creates background knowledge for her, teaching her about things that she might not experience first-hand.

Begin to develop the habit of reading aloud with your child. She will eventually want to do it on her own. My son regularly brings me books for us to read together. Lately, he’s even been doing it when he feels upset or frustrated.

What is Normal Behavior for an Infant or Toddler While Reading?

Building a regular practice of reading with your little ones is important. Each time you sit down to read, the experience will be different. I can just about guarantee that. I mean, who can predict how a toddler will act from one minute to the next? Not me!

However, here is what you can generally expect to see as your child grows. (Most of these ideas are shared in Jim Trelease’s book The Read-Aloud Handbook.):


During tummy time with your newborn, prop up a black and white book in front of them. These types of books help to strengthen the muscles in newborn’s developing eyes. They can focus best on the high contrast colors, and it’s amazing to watch him focus on the curve of lines as his gaze shifts across the page.

Four Months

By four months, your little one is not moving very much. This is a fantastic time to build a steady reading routine with her because she can’t get away from you! She will find joy in listening, observing, and snuggling with you as you read aloud.

As your child is sitting on your lap, read from board books with bright colors and few words. Rhyming texts are perfect for helping to develop language at this age.

Six Months

Once your child is six months old you should allow him to turn pages or to gum the book a little bit. These positive interactions will help your son or daughter to enjoy this time with you and to fall in love with reading.

Continue to read board books, which has thick pages that are easy to grasp and turn. They can also withstand all your toddler has to offer. My son really enjoys indestructible books like Tiny Tots from Usborne Books & More or the Indestructibles series by Workman Publishing Company. He reads these regularly in the car when I’m not able to read aloud to him.

Eight Months

Around eight months of age, you’ll find that your child will be very interested in turning the pages of the book. So much so, you may not have finished reading before she’s ready to move on. That’s okay! Don’t give up reading, but also don’t discourage her from this new skill she’s developing.

Twelve Months

At the age of twelve months, your child will become more interested in the actual text of the book. He will begin to point out objects in the illustrations so you can name them, and he will possibly begin to make connections to items around your house. This is also a great age to begin practicing animal noises. These sounds are part of the building blocks to language development. Make it fun and silly!

Fifteen Months

Once your child is fifteen months old (and this information will also apply for the next several months), you’ll find that she is really on the move! For my toddler, I allow him to hold his own book while we read. Every time I turn a page, he watches me and turns a page in his own book. He’s quickly catching on to important reading behaviors. It’s also not surprising to see him run off to find his favorite stuffed animal so his rabbit can listen to the story, too. Or, very often, he likes to stack blocks while I read. This is absolutely fine! I’m always amazed at how he will still respond to what I am reading by pointing to a recognizable object that I mention, or something else that he connects to while listening.

Sofa with a baby or child's blanket laying on it. Toys and a stuffed bear on the floor.

Remain consistent in your reading time and you will begin to see that your child’s attention span will improve over time. It is normal for a toddler to only listen for three minutes, so don’t become frustrated. Attempt to read multiple times throughout the day in order to have a larger total time reading together. Remember, some time is better than no time at all. Do the best you can!

How to Encourage Reading with Your Toddler

Practice these simple ideas in order to help your child see the importance of reading. They will hopefully begin to desire this reading time all on their own if they haven’t already.

  • Make books easily accessible: have lots of bins and forward-facing shelves all around the house. We have an old aluminum baking dish filled with books in our kitchen! A study published in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility found that children with at least 500 books in their home, complete an average of 3.2 MORE years of education. However, even as few as 20 books can make a marked difference in a child’s success.
  • Give your child the opportunity to choose what book he wants to read. This helps him to feel empowered and he will more likely stick with reading that book.
  • According to Louis Harris, “Creating a steady stream of new, age-appropriate books has been shown to nearly triple interest in reading.” Be sure to offer a variety of options: interactive books, picture books, nonfiction books.
  • Build a reading routine into your day. Think about the little opportunities you can squeeze in a book: at meals, during baths, before naps and bedtime. Jim Trelease notes in his book The Read-Aloud Handbook that “Reading aloud is more impactful than: tests, book reports, homework, flash cards, worksheets, and even parents’ education level.”
  • Allow her to play with books by stacking them like blocks, using them as ramps or tunnels for cars, or anything else she can imagine. This will create positive interactions with books, which will encourage your child’s desire to read.

Reading With a Toddler Looks Like a Disaster, but…

…it’s actually helping them to build a healthy reading routine, which will set them up for future success. I hope you can relax and take the time you spend with your daughter or son in stride. Continue your reading practice because it will help to build a lasting bond between the two of you. That is what matters most!

As a parent I know you desire for your kids to read with ease and pleasure. You’re not alone. Learn more about how to implement simple, relaxed tips for reading with your child by signing up for my free guide: The 9 Mistakes Parents Make Raising Readers. You will receive a breakdown of potential pitfalls that could frustrate your child, as well as ideas to encourage a more relaxed approach to reading instead. Sign up using the form below!