Reading with Toddlers

One of the things I looked forward to most about becoming a parent was being able to share books with my child. In my imagination it was a lot more rosy that reality (isn’t that the case for about 98% of parenting?!) with my gorgeous little cherub all tucked up in bed as I read my way through the classics I had heard and loved as a child. The reality looks a bit more like this:

Me – Reads two lines

Toddler – ‘Mummy, look at this dinosaur! Rahhhh he’s going to eat you!’

Me – Wrestle toddler off my neck and to the floor. ‘Sit down now, it’s story time’.

Read another two lines.

Me – ‘what are you doing?’

Toddler – ‘Running! Arrrghhh!’

And so it goes on. But every few moments, when I really do feel like I am reading to the walls my little boy will turn to me to comment on something I have just read, suddenly he wants to know, what was that bang that Piglet heard? Oh no, has he really popped the balloon? Sometimes he might ask me a question or, even better, will crawl over and sit in my lap to get a closer look at the book in my hands engrossed fully for a moment in the world that I am creating for him.

Perhaps I should be stricter and have him sit with me ‘properly’ but I want him to love books. I want him to be drawn into them in his own time and in his own way. I want him to come to story time with expectation and excitement not dread of being forced to sit when all he wants to do is fling his little body around the room – and listen to the story too, in his own way.

I’m certainly not an advert for what you should and shouldn’t do with your kids and how things like story time ought to go but I have found that opening up some longer books (we have just finished Winnie the Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner, and have now moved on to Return to Hundred Acre Wood) has not only added more words to my son’s every expanding vocabulary but has also allowed us to connect in a really special way.

I work full time so I’m not always home at bedtime but when I am it is a thing of excitement because only I can do Eeyore’s voice in the way he likes it or as he puts it ‘only Mummy knows the words’. It doesn’t look perfect, in fact half the time it looks like a chaotic mess but the more time I put in the more I am realising the benefits of going beyond a couple of picture books before bed into reading bigger books and for longer each night with my toddler.

The toddler mind is an extraordinary thing and we have talked about all kinds of things in the course of our half an hour of reading (while he performs ever more daring feats of gymnastics around his room!). We’ve poured together over the map of the Hundred Acre Wood, finding Pooh’s house and Piglet’s House and all the rest of the gang. But most of all we’ve been together, exploring that world. We’ve been through the Hundred Acre Wood as a pair, Mummy and Son.

I’ve been really inspired to put the time into reading by the book The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gordon. She charts the many and varied benefits of reading aloud to children for their brains, their developing vocabulary and their emotional well being that is utterly compelling. But she also paints a magical picture of time spent reading with her children, of all the world’s they visit and adventures they go on together and the closeness brought about by reading aloud.

We’re a bit stuck in the Hundred Acre Wood at the moment with Eeyore’s Birthday on repeat (but as I learned from Meghan’s book this is all about the toddler’s desire for mastery!) but I am already excited to see where we might go next. I have some Roald Dahl and Alexander McCall Smith on standby as soon as the little man says he is ready for the next adventure.

So how about you? Have you tried reading longer books to your young children and do you still read to your older ones? Any recommendations of great books you’ve read to your children or that you remember from childhood as must reads for kids? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

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