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Occasionally I come across an article describing that parents read to their kids. I like that, but I am not sure how and when to start doing so.

In fact, this question is not really about my son, it's about me. I want to start this cozy habit but feel that he's not interested (yet). How could we ease into a short daily reading time?

My situation is that my son (now 2½) is incredibly active and won't sit still even for three minutes (unless it's for watching Barbapapa on mommy's Youtube). For now it looks like our son will become an athlete rather than a scholar, and we're fine whatever it will be.

Small update: "Scholar" is not my goal. "Cozy" and "reading" are my goals.

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5 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Whilst it helps to start early, it's never too late to start a habit :)

I also have a very active toddler and the following helps:

  • establish a routine: for example I read to my kids for about 10 minutes just before bedtime, every single day. They know it and expect it (big drama if we try to skip it)
  • get him to pick the book he wants: at read-time, i ask my daughters to go and get a book, they're totally free to choose the ones they want (and yes, i often end up reading the same book everynight for two weeks...). Let him turn the pages at his own pace (fast or slow) or just get him to look at one page and tell him the story that's happening there. It's about getting him actively involved and engaged.
  • don't worry too much about the story: focus on the bits that grab his interest, the pictures he likes, make noises and ask him to tell you what he sees
  • get cozy: I read to my kids on our big bed, so it's soft and comfortable and sets a more quiet tone for the activity.
  • if you have other kids, and one of them likes reading, then make it a joint activity: toddlers often like to emulate others. Same thing if he goes to day care or play dates, it will also helps if he sees other kids listening to story time.
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We started reading stories as a preamble to bedtime when he was under a year old and started to understand that there was a time that he had to go upstairs for sleep. The routine was three stories, three songs, and then lights out -- with reductions in the count if he threw a tantrum during the bedtime routine! He is now coming up on five years old and has decided that he will read his own books for night-night, in order to prepare for reading books to his sister (now 6mos.) We couldn't be prouder! –  Jurph Jun 15 '12 at 0:53
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The easiest answer is to start early. If you start reading regularly to your child while they're an infant, and continue the practice as they get older, it should be a seamless transition.

If you start later, it becomes a bit more difficult, particularly if regular television viewing becomes part of the routine, as a child used to fast-paced, brightly colored images on a TV screen may find the images in a book, and the "pay-off" of having it read to them, a bit slow-paced and dull by comparison.

The best strategies involve subject matter, timing, and delivery.

One of the big advantages of books is that it is very easy to find something tailored to your child's interests. Most kids have one or more topics that they really enjoy. These can fluctuate pretty often, depending on the kid, but I've noticed that borderline "obsession" with specific topics is common. Whether it is cars, dinosaurs, Star Wars, animals, tractors, trains, dolls, or (one of my favorites) "evil princesses", most kids have some topics that instantly get their attention. All you have to do is pick books that match your child's interests.

If you really can't find any books that match your child's interests, write your own!

Be sure not to pick stories that are too long or slow-paced, though, at least at first. If the book you found that is on an interesting topic, plan on reading only part of it, and find a stopping point before you think your child will lose interest.

It can help keep a child interested in reading if you establish it as part of a routine. The best time to read is often when the child is winding down, either after a meal, or right before going to sleep. Reading a book is a good way to segue into a nap or bedtime.

The final part is delivery. Get silly. Make funny noises as sound effects. Give each character a unique voice. Have any animals make noises. They don't have to be accurate imitations; my son still enjoys hearing me make "giraffe noises" (inspired by South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut; and no, my son has not watched that movie!). Feel free to interrupt the story line with sidebar conversations if you think it will interest or amuse your child.

I sometimes detour from the story to relate the contents of the story to recent events my son experienced (e.g. if the character in the book sees their grandmother, I may say "that's just like when you saw Grandma this morning! Remember?" or "Curious George is a monkey, just like the ones you saw at the zoo yesterday. Remember the monkeys, and the baby orangutan that you saw playing? Wasn't that fun!"). Sometimes I add in my own editorial comments, or even new plots or stories.

The important thing is that you have fun with it, too. The more you enjoy telling stories, the more your son will enjoy you telling them to him.

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"particularly if regular television viewing" - that's one reason why we don't watch TV (much). Junior gets 5 minutes of Youtube per day, if he behaves. I'm sure he'll get plenty of TV time later. Are there many books featuring evil princesses? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 12 '12 at 14:08
    
I'll have to check with my cousin. Her daughter is (possibly was... my information is based on her favorites as-of last November, so she may be on to a new topic) the fan of evil princesses and Star Wars. –  Beofett Jun 12 '12 at 14:12
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+1 for the suggestion that daily reading should have started as an infant. –  lgritz Jun 12 '12 at 18:49
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+1 for writing your own stories. I have a collection of nursery rhymes written for my baby by a relative. We started reciting one to her before she was born and even as a newborn she would visibly relax when we recited it. She still loves it months later. –  justkt Jun 13 '12 at 13:38
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This may sounds crazy, but, try comic books or graphic novels instead of the old classic rhyming children's stories. I was hopelessly bored reading Seuss etc to my son, but, then I started reading Mega Man, Mouse Gaurd and the Chuck Dixon graphic-novelization of The Hobbit to him and we both love it.

The action, the pictures, the little bit of scariness all keep his attention quite well.

You could even get a snack of some sort to help corral/anchor him in place while you read.

Also, don't wait to start reading. It is never too early. For newborns, its a great way to talk a lot to them (they'll recognize your voice from before they were out). For infants and toddlers it's fun to look at the pictures (my 11mo loves the books with animals and only a few words per page and is starting to make the animal sounds with me). For small ones, it can be a really special bonding time and sure-fire way to get to delay going to sleep for as long as they possibly can (little tricksters...).

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In addition to the excellent suggestions above (reading before bedtime is a tradition in our house), I'd recommend some action books for daytime play. Then he won't have to sit still!

We have If You're Happy and You Know It, which has lots of movements that my sons can do while I hold up the book and sing. Itsy-Bitsy Spider, Old MacDonald, Wheels on the Bus and some other children's songs can also be found in book form. Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton is a favorite with us as well; it involves calling dance moves, so it is really fun, especially for two or more children.

The familiar songs make the text more accessible, and making a game out of reading this way helps form positive associations with books. Also, it seems like this interaction would be particularly compatible with your son's activity level.

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I have a very active almost-3-year-old and until a month ago, we were in exact same position as you.

Here is my Machiavellian solution that should get your little one begging for stories in a couple of weeks (guaranteed or your money back!). Offer reading as an alternative to bed time - as active boys go, he will do anything to avoid sleeping, and a couple weeks later, you'll have yourself an avid reader.

Before you start, I suggest arming yourself with a dozen books so you can figure out what kinds of stories he responds to. Most toddler books out there are hopelessly unrelatable (stupid farm animals, yer olden English, etc.) so I suggest going to your local library and enlisting a librarian to give you a good selection.

Joanna Cole and Byron Barton are my personal favorites, and I recommend substituting his name and his playmates' names for book characters. Good luck.

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I love this idea, but isn't there a big risk of backfiring? I spent many hours after bedtime with a book and a flashlight, but it didn't get me up in the morning. Being a parent myself now, I begin to grasp why my parents came to check on me in the evenings :-) –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 1 '12 at 11:17
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