12 genius ways to teach your toddler how to read

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introduction image for 12 ways to teach toddler how to read

Reading is a fun hobby that all ages can enjoy. Books are a gateway to the lands of imagination and creativity. They allow for a moment of escape, can be fun, and encourage ongoing intellectual growth. So, we should teach a toddler how to read as soon as possible, right?

Not exactly.

I’m not a specialist when it comes to children and reading, but I have done a lot of developmental research. And wow! A child’s memory capabilities are so fascinating! Children are capable of learning so much within a short timeframe. No wonder why there are so many ads promoting learning and development before the age of seven!

It is important to go at their own pace. AND, it is very important to develop their gross motor skills and their fine motor skills while working towards teaching your toddler how to read. These skills encourage brain development while also developing

  • creativity
  • independence
  • confidence
  • hand-eye coordination
  • speech
  • language
  • versatility
  • and many, many more wonderful things!

Teaching your toddler how to read at their own pace comes with many benefits, too, such as…

  • bonding
  • fostering literacy skills
  • encouraging understanding
  • increasing concentration and focus
  • stimulating imagination

So, exactly how do we teach a toddler how to read?

#1. Play, play, and then play some more.

Children need to play to learn. It is how they explore the world. I mentioned that we need to foster their gross motor and fine motor skills before diving into reading. Playing is one of the best ways to do this!

Plus, playing encourages development, creativity, imagination, bonding, and so much more!

Besides, who doesn’t enjoy watching the concentration on their child’s face as they play? Play for toddlers is like work for adults. It is their time for concentration and focus. So, let’s not break their little choo-choo trains of thought!

#2. Sing to your child.

I’m sure most of us do this already. Repetition is so important, though.

Fun Fact: Toddlers can start consciously recalling things at age 2. And, a 2-year-old’s memory typically spans a couple of months.

Therefore, repetition is important. Singing their favorite songs and nursery rhymes helps to foster their memory.

Additionally, as you sing to them, they are learning how you articulate words and move your mouth to form the sounds the words make.

#3. Color and paint.

Coloring and painting are fun activities for toddlers. For one thing, there are so many colors for them to explore! Two, they get to create something! And three, they get the benefits of sensory play through visual and tactile (touch) learning.

On top of that, if your toddler is holding a crayon or a paintbrush, or using their fingers to move paint around, they are developing a fine motor function that can help them learn how to turn pages.

image of toddler painting with water and a paint brush to lead to teaching toddler how to read
Painting can be done with nontoxic paint, water, or food coloring. Always be sure to keep an eye on your toddler while they paint but don’t interrupt their flow.

#4. Rhyme.

Rhyming teaches toddlers how to group similar-sounding words together, such as cat and hat. Using 3-letter words and one-syllable words especially helps with developing their reading skills.

This is something that I did with my son, and it has worked to quickly develop his communication skills. At 19 months (at the time of writing this post), he is able to speak in full, short sentences.

#5. Explore puzzles.

Puzzles encourage problem-solving and creativity.

Problem-solving, because it allows them to intellectually figure things out.

Creativity, because puzzles are more than just puzzles. Many toddler puzzles have fun shapes and colors, so they encourage imagination and various types of play.

image of toddler playing with DIY puzzle box - 12 genius ways to teach toddler how to read
Puzzles can be bought or DIY. This is a DIY puzzle box I made for my toddler out of an empty box of eggs and popsicle sticks.

In addition to the DIY puzzle box, a wooden puzzle set is a great buy for toddlers. I got my toddler this multi-pack set, which came with two of his favorite books. He also likes to play pretend with the vehicle, animal, and fruit puzzle pieces. Talk about hours of fun!

#6. Point out symbols.

Words are symbols. Signs are symbols. Symbols are everywhere.

So, pointing out symbols and teaching your toddler what they are can not only help them recognize what they are, but it can also familiarize them with words by giving them something to visualize while they develop their reading skills.

#7. Explore the alphabet.

No list would be complete without exploring the alphabet. Luckily, there are so many creative ways to explore the alphabet, such as:

  • alphabet cards
  • fun alphabet books
  • arts and crafts
  • and so much more!

#8. Explore books.

Just like the alphabet, this list would not be complete without exploring books! We are fortunate to have such a variety of books that encourage sensory play, STEM, and other types of interaction.

Exploring books is the best way I got my toddler to love books. ESPECIALLY at his own pace. I don’t force him to read. I just leave books out in easy-to-access places, which gives him plenty of opportunities to either read or play.

image of interactive books to encourage toddler to learn how to read
A few interactive books my toddler loves! A peek-a-boo book, a STEM book, and a book that talks to him.

#9. Read to your child regularly.

Just like #7 and #8, reading to your child frequently is a must.

Reading to your child daily is something that is so simple and easy to do. And, most children’s books can take less than five minutes to read. So why not read daily?

I will admit that it can take longer when you are trying to make it fun by doing fun voices, pointing out objects and symbols in the background, and involving your child in looking beyond the pages.

For example, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin, Jr. & Erik Carle can take us over 10 minutes to read sometimes because I have my son laughing, pointing out the names of animals, and I am making animal sounds between sentences.

#10. Create a fun reading space.

A fun reading space promotes focus and concentration. It also lets your child know that they have a quiet space to focus that is away from screens and other technology.

While I was finishing up college, my son’s reading tent was the ideal space for both of us to hang out and learn.

You can read about how I got through college as a full-time mom and student here.

image of inside toddler's reading tent
A peek into my toddler’s reading tent.

#11. Read for yourself.

Children perpetually mimic us. They copy what we do because we are the parents and the adults in their lives, and it is part of their learning.

When I am reading (you know, for the 10 minutes I can get here and there as a mom), my son will often grab one of his books and sit next to me and read.

#12. Allow them to pick.

Allowing children to pick out their own books while you are at the store can promote reading and get them excited to dive into a book that they want.

Of all the children’s books we own, the ones my son picked out are his daily favorites, Many.. many.. many months later.

image of books my toddler picks out and love! - helping toddler how to read
Books that my toddler picked out and read frequently. One came from a museum. One came from Walmart. The others came with toys he wanted.

Books my toddler loves

Roar! Roar! I’m A Dinosaur! by Jo Lodge

Baby Touch and Feel: Baby Animals by DK

World of Eric Carle, Turn, Crank, Zoom! A STEM Gear Sound Book – PI Kids by Editors of Phoenix International Publications (Author, Editor), Eric Carle (Illustrator)

Pop-Up Peekaboo! Farm by DK

You Are My I Love You (bilingual version) by Maryann Cusimano Love (Author), Satomi Ichikawa (Illustrator)

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. (Author), Eric Carle (Author)

Dr. Seuss’s Beginner Book Collection by Dr. Suess

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

First 100 Words / Primera 100 Palabras (Bilingual) by Roger Priddy

Non-Toxic Soft Cloth Book Set They may be marketed for babies, but my toddler still loves them. Plus, they help with pointing out symbols to children.

To conclude teaching your toddler how to read

Reading is a fun skill to learn, and it should be done at your child’s pace. You do not need an elaborate phonics curriculum to encourage a love of books. Fun, games, and repetition are the way to go when teaching your toddler how to read.

What did you think of these 12 tips to teach your toddler how to read? Is there anything you would do differently? Let me know in the comments!

12 thoughts on “12 genius ways to teach your toddler how to read”

  1. These are such great tips! I look forward to implementing the new ideas you’ve suggested. One of my favorites was making a reading tent. That sounds like something my toddler will love!

    1. You’re welcome!

      I hope at least one of these tips works for you. I would strongly suggest taking him to a bookstore or something and letting him pick what he wants. That’s how I got most of the kids in my family to pick up reading as a hobby.

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