Why Should I Read To My Toddler?

Why should I read to my toddler? Everyone says I should . . . but why? An IPad can read a book to a child and the child can even control it—isn’t that the same?

Watch yourself settle in to read a book with your child. You make a nest for the child in your lap in a chair or on the child’s bed. Your child curls up against you and you juggle the need to keep the book open, turn the page and keep an arm around a kid. You catch a child looking up from the book to your face, then back to the book. He touches the page, tries to take the book and turn the page. What you’re doing when you read to a toddler isn’t just about the book, and it never was. You are creating a sense of love, of safety; you’re creating a sense of being held that will open up every time your child opens a book for the rest of her life.

If you have a child who’s the right age—say 15 to 30 months—try reading Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown.
The language of Goodnight Moon has a gentle rhythm, with frequent repeated words, rhymes and repeated soft consonants:

“In the great green room/ There was a telephone/ And a red balloon/ And a picture of–/ The cow jumping over the moon/ And there were three little bears sitting on chairs . . ..”

Read out loud, the language itself holds the child.

The illustrations by Clement Hurd are open and spacious. Nothing about them is cluttered or busy. They invite the child in. Gradually, as the child gets further into the book and we repeat the word “goodnight,” saying “goodnight” to telephone, “goodnight” to the balloon and to the cow jumping over the moon and to all the inhabitants of the great green room, the colors in the illustrations get darker, and night falls.

The power of the language and illustrations in Goodnight Moon to create a safe space despite the anxiety-producing theme of the book—going to bed—is amazing. The mother of one twenty-month-old child told me that after she read Goodnight Moon to her daughter, the toddler got down from her mother’s arms, took the book, placed it on the floor and tried to step into the great green room.

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