The Dad’s Guide to Reading with Toddlers

  by Chris Chancey

When I was in 1st grade, the principal announced a reading competition. The student in each grade who read the most books during the school year would win an award. That award immediately became my goal.

When my mom dropped me off at the school cafeteria for breakfast each morning, I would sneak out of line and into the library to read another book and add to my total. My mom was upset when she received a call from the school alerting her that I had not been at breakfast for the first half of the school year, but how could she punish a kid for craving books over pancakes, right?

I won the contest, and I’ve always had an appetite for reading and I try to digest a few books each month.

As my wife and I were preparing to have our first child, I decided my love for books would be one of the best traits I could pass on to him.

Boaz is now 10 months old, and we’ve visited our local library frequently. Like most libraries, ours has a great children’s section, full of picture books for all ages.

Here are a couple activities that have become hallmarks of our one-hour library visits:


I select an aisle in the children’s section and let Boaz crawl up-and-down and pull books off the bottom shelves. With each book he pulls out, we’ll pause to look at the cover, open it to view a few pages inside, and then place it back on the shelf. His call on what we look at.  

At this point, he rarely sits still long enough for me to read a book to him, but his awareness of the magic of each book grows every time. It’s always interesting to see what attracts his attention and what he seems really interested in. He’s easily entertained for 20-30 minutes by the repetition of grazing, and it wears him out to set up the deep dive.

Deep Dive

During our grazing, we set four or five of the most intriguing books aside. When we are both tired of crawling around, Boaz and I take our time going through this select batch. We find a spot where we won’t bother anyone and go through each book without reading it, page-by-page, with me describing the pictures and pointing out details in each scene.

The second time through a book, we actually read it, and this time I help Boaz use his finger to point and describe the pages. When he starts to get restless, switching to a new book usually piques his interest again and keeps him engaged with the process. In 20-30 minutes, we’ve worked our way through our pile of books, introduced loads of new vocabulary, and worked on hand-eye coordination. Not to mention that we’ve thoroughly enjoyed some solid children’s literature.

If he seems to really enjoy any of the books we end up with, I’ll check them out so we can take them home. The due date serves as good accountability to ensure a return trip will happen in the next couple weeks.

I doubt he’ll be skipping breakfast to hit up the library anytime soon, but I believe spending one-on-one time with Boaz and exposing him to literature at this age will foster a lifelong desire to read.


Postscript: While perusing at your library or bookstore, let us humbly suggest you check out a book by Mo Willems or Oliver Jeffers.

Picture by Robyn Budlender; Used via Unsplash license.