We all want our children to do well in school, but it’s important to encourage reading and learning before school even begins. Every child is different and learns at their own pace, but creating a home environment that fosters learning can help give children a strong foundation. Parents can promote early literacy at home to help give toddlers and babies the start they need to succeed in school. Here are some ways to encourage reading at home in the early years.
How to Encourage Reading with Toddlers and Babies
“How do I get my child interested in reading?” That’s one of the most popular questions parents asked me when I was a teacher. Unfortunately, many precious years had passed where some parents hadn’t taken steps to motivate their children to read at home! Reading habits are best introduced early, before children are even expected to know how to read.
Read With Your Child Often
This may seem like an obvious answer, but it is the most important one! Reading to your child and with your child daily is the best way to encourage reading. And they really are never too young or too old to start!
“But my kid just wants to read the same book over and over.” Actually, that’s a GOOD thing! Repetition is common with younger children, and their brains are busy learning from repeated readings. They learn the vocabulary, the letters, and the story more and more every time you read. So while mom and dad are bored senseless, baby is busy taking in everything! They also rely on memorized stories later as they begin to understand that a word in the story matches a printed word in the book -- which is a great first step to reading!
While it really doesn’t matter what you read -- it could be the words on a cereal box -- here are some of my favorite books for babies and toddlers:
Predictable books are great for toddlers who want to “help” you read. My children all wanted to feel like they could read to me, and knowing what was coming next helped them to figure out what to say -- even though they didn’t know what the words were.
When children are able to predict what words are coming next, they become more confident readers. This confidence encourages reading and motivates them to want to learn more and more!
Go Dog Go by Dr. Seuss and Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See by Bill Martin Jr/Eric Carle are maybe the most popular books with repetitive text. We also love Pete the Cat, BOB Books, Goodnight Moon, and One Duck Stuck. Some of these have been passed down through all of my kids and are getting a little worn, but we keep reading them!
Personalized books are another way to promote early literacy. My kids LOVE when a book uses their name. That doesn’t usually happen by chance, since my kids’ names have nontraditional spellings!
Personalized books encourage reading because kids really feel like the book was written for them, or even about them. It’s more interesting than a book about some random kid’s adventures -- because they can imagine it’s actually THEIR adventure!
Last year for Christmas, I gave Aren a book from UncommonGoods. It was called What Big Sister Does Best. Not only did I want to encourage reading, but I was really hoping to encourage a good relationship between her and new baby brother. I think I won on both counts!
I have also made custom photo books from Shutterfly for both Kaiden and Aren. Again, in addition to promoting early literacy, I had another motive. We lived so far from extended family that I wanted to make sure my kids remembered everyone. Kaiden and Aren both loved reading their books, and they loved identifying our extended family members too. It made holidays and visits more fun since they recognized faces more easily.
Of course, books that include the alphabet are just another great way to promote early literacy. Seeing, saying, and touching the ABCs are much more educational than just singing the alphabet song (elemenopee is a doozy!) but we do a little of all of it.
I remember reading Dr. Seuss’ ABC as a kid, but my children have other favorites. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is super popular in our house. They also love this A is for Apple book that has letters you can trace with your fingers. There are even arrows that show you the motion to use when you write!
Encourage Reading with Toys
Books aren’t the only way to encourage reading at home! Learning through play is one of the best ways for children, because they don’t even realize they are learning.
Aren loves her wooden puzzles from This & That Etc, and I love them because I know they will last forever. We have both the classic uppercase and the lowercase puzzles, as well as name puzzles for both Aren and Rowen. Rowen is too young to really understand yet, but the exposure to the letters and his name is still beneficial!
(FYI for parents: This & That Etc also sells replacement letters for the alphabet puzzles. Just in case you have a hungry puppy, or if your toddler sends a letter down the toilet.)
Classic wooden alphabet blocks are also great for promoting early literacy. They are fun to build alphabet towers, line up the ABCs in order, and eventually use them to spell rhyming words like bat, cat, mat.
We also use foam letters and numbers in the bathtub. I have to warn you though -- our set has a yellow P. And yes, my kids get the joke and think it’s HILARIOUS. “Mom, yellow P is on the floor!” Oh boy.
Just remember to keep learning fun!
Here’s a video of Kaiden playing with his bathtub letters at 18 months old. He was more advanced at letter recognition at this age than any of my other kids were. Aren began naming letters and sounds around 3 years old.
If you can handle the mess, old school refrigerator alphabet magnets are also another great way to promote early literacy (and inexpensive!). Hunter and Kaiden both grew up with them, but we don’t have them anymore. Somehow a few always got lost under the fridge and the stove.
Have a Literacy Rich Environment
What is a literacy rich environment? It is an environment that promotes literacy and exposes children to a variety of ways to interact with letters, reading, and writing.
So what does that mean? How can I create a literacy rich environment in my home?
By having a variety of books for you and your child to read together, you are off to a great start! These books should be appealing to your child and accessible for them to read at any time.
Not all books have to be purchased brand new either. Many can be found either free or cheap at thrift shops, Facebook marketplace, yard sales, or even when the library is clearing out old inventory.
You can also encourage reading by having a comfy place for kids to read. We have a rocker recliner in our playroom, and I often find Aren or Rowen looking at books by the window. Mats or rugs on the floor, beanbags or throw pillows -- all are great reading spots. Of course Mom and Dad’s lap makes a great reading spot as well.
Fill Your Home With Words to Encourage Reading
Before you start to wallpaper your house with the New York Times, let’s think of other ways you can fill your home with words!
If you watch Fixer Upper on HGTV, you may notice that a lot of current home decor includes signs and words. “Gather” or “Eat” in the kitchen, “Flush” in the bathroom, “Hello” or “Welcome” on a doormat.
I’ll keep my opinions on “Live Laugh Love” to myself.
While your style of decor may differ from mine, we can’t deny how easy it is to incorporate words and letters into our home decor. I try to be mindful of my kids’ early learning and use capital letters that are easy to identify -- especially in our playroom or their bedrooms.
Print letters are much easier for kids to read than script or cursive.
Our playroom has the word PLAY in large capital letters on one wall. Makes sense for the space, and they can easily identify the letters and later learn what the word is.
I also use letters over the kids’ towel hooks in their bathroom to keep their towels organized. Aren loves to tell me H is for Hunter, K is for Kaiden, A is for Aren and R is for Rowen. She has also made the connection that both the letters K and R “kick a leg out” -- a great observation for an early reader!
I also love having their names on the wall in their rooms. Name recognition is super important, and just being exposed to the shape of their name helps them to learn to read and write it later on.
I just added this name sign from Nesting Seasons to Rowen’s room. Not only am I super in love with it (I literally got emotional when I saw it!) but it’s perfectly designed to encourage reading of his own name as he grows. When I ordered it, I specifically requested print font instead of script so that he could learn the letters of his name. Luckily she took my vision and made it 100x better than I ever expected -- and even incorporated his “Sunshines” nickname into the design!
Don’t Forget To Write!
Reading is obviously an important part of promoting early literacy, but that is only one piece of the puzzle.
Children also benefit from early exposure to writing, including mimicking writing before they know how to write letters and numbers. Crayons, markers, pencils, and chalk are all great to have on hand for fun writing activities. We write on paper, boxes -- anything we can find!
Just not walls. Unless you have a chalk wall like we do in the playroom.
Songs are also important for literacy, and they don’t have to just be alphabet songs either. Any song you sing can encourage reading because it increases your child’s vocabulary. So sing away!
Encourage Reading Every Day
Many parents have heard to read a book at bedtime, but that isn’t a hard and fast rule. Reading to your children at ANY time is important, so make it work for your family’s schedule.
Children also learn by watching what we do -- so be a good role model! Let them see you reading too, whether it’s a library book or the manual to your vacuum (hey, you might learn what that funky attachment does!).
Even when you’re out and about, look for letters and words around you. The M on the McDonald’s sign looks a lot like the W on the Wendy’s sign, doesn’t it? And what are those letters on the big red stop sign? How many EXIT signs can you see?