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How to Start Reading Books to Toddlers Who Can’t Sit Still

Reading books to toddlers can be insanely hard! New and aspiring walkers just don’t want to sit still. A toddler’s attention span is already short and technology has pushed kids to stop reading. As both a mom and a teacher, I am passionate about instilling a passion for reading in my children. 

This post is all about how to start reading books to toddlers who can’t seem to sit still and a few ways I help keep my toddler interested in reading.

reading books to toddlers

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Benefits of Reading Books to Toddlers

There are substantial benefits of reading to toddlers! Reading teaches children about language and about the world around them. Here are just a few benefits reading can have on your toddler. 

  • Models a love of reading and books– Reading with your child can help them to also develop a love of reading. 
  • Teaches them about the world around them- Children come into this world not knowing anything about the world around them. They learn by looking and listening. Reading to your toddler increases the amount of information and topics that they are learning about and can help them more quickly learn about their world. 
  • Strengthens their vocabulary– Reading with your toddler gives them more language to draw from and learn from. In fact, some studies have found that by the age of 3, up to 98% of the words used by a child come from their parents. 
  • Improves your child’s ability to focus- Slowly building up the amount of time that you sit and read with your child can help to improve their ability to sit still and focus. This will help them a lot in school. (and their teachers will thank you) 
  • Helps children learn about different emotions- Reading books to toddlers exposes them to different emotions. Find books that portray positive ways of dealing with negative emotions to teach your child how to properly cope with and work through how they are feeling. This Box of Mixed Emotions Books is based on the movie Inside Out and does a wonderful job teaching children about different emotions. 
  • Teaches them about various topics- Reading books with toddlers helps them learn about topics like numbers, shapes, animals, seasons, weather, and more. These are all great foundational concepts that will help them better understand their world and be better prepared for school.
  • Bonds you and your toddler- Reading with your toddler strengthens the connection between you. Not only are you spending time together, but you will share many giggles and fun moments too.

How Often to Read to Toddlers

The more often you read to your toddler, the better! It is best to build books into your child’s routine so that it becomes calming and known to them. Start off with a few minutes every night. You may not even be able to finish a full book at first and that’s okay. Start with half a book and work your way up until your toddler can finish the full book in a single setting. This is a great way to start. 

I started off reading to my toddler with one book every night before bed. This is a great way to start. Once your child is able to do this well, go ahead and add books before nap times as well. Then start reading more than one book at these times! This is how we started reading (and my son has a hard time sitting still) and now we read between three and six books before each nap and bedtime! It may seem daunting at first but their focus and ability to sit still will improve once they get into a routine. 

Tips for Reading Books to Toddlers:

  • Make it a part of daily life- Add reading into your routine at nap time and bed time, but also encourage it throughout the day! Bring books with you when you leave the house. Encourage older toddlers to read in the car (which may just be looking at pictures, but that’s okay!). Read together when you are waiting somewhere, like the doctor’s office, rather than letting them play on your phone. You can even buy bath books to add reading fun to bath time!
  • Keep books where your toddler can reach them– Even if they aren’t reading yet, flipping through the pages and looking at the pictures is great practice for later reading! We bought this shelf for our son’s baby books (he has a lot) and it was perfect! It is just big enough for his many books, looks nice, but isn’t crazy expensive! 
  • Create a space for reading- A special space for reading helps make reading even more special and fun for your toddler. You can purchase a reading nook bookshelf, create your own reading nook, or opt for a comfortable piece of furniture like a comfy couch or a family beanbag. 
  • Let your child stand if they want- Sometimes my toddler would fuss over reading one book sitting but can read two or three if he stands next to me on the couch.
  • Let your toddler choose the book– From the time my son was 10 months old, he wanted to pick his own books. So, we would stand him up next to the book shelf and let him pick. Letting your toddler pick which book to read gets them excited for reading and helps them feel more involved in the whole process. 
  • Let your toddler flip the pages- Toddlers love independence so flipping the pages is a great way to help them feel like a part of reading.
  • Switch the name– Switching the name of the main character in the story with the name of your child (or a name they pick)is a great way to maintain your toddler’s interest. 
  • Look for books that have sound buttons-  Books with sounds were the best way to make the story come to life when I was first encouraging my toddler to read.
  • Start mastering those animal sounds– Making the corresponding animal sounds while you are reading about certain animals is a great way to maintain your toddler’s attention, make them laugh, and encourage them to enjoy story time. 
  • Look for books with texture–  Babies and toddlers love new textures. Books with texture will help keep your child stimulating and involved in story time. 
  • Look for books with interactive features- Any book with pop ups or flaps is a great way to keep your toddler interested. 
  • Search out books with mirrors- Toddlers can be a bit vain and love staring at themselves in a mirror. Books with mirrors are a huge hit.
  • Use funny voices- My husband is the king of funny voices for story time and our toddler loves it.
  • Mix it up and sing the words sometimes– My husband picked up a book the other day before bedtime and just started singing it. It may sound silly but our son loved it! 
  • Ask questions- As your toddler gets older, start to ask them questions about what is going on with the pictures on each page. You can also ask them to look at the cover before you begin reading it for the first time and guess what the book is about.
  • Do picture walks- Once your child is old enough, have them flip through the story themselves and explain what is happening in each picture before you read the story with them. This is a great way to practice later reading skills. 
  • Choose books about things that they are interested in- As your toddler gets older, you will quickly pick up on their favorite foods, toys, animals, and colors. Reading books about these things is a great way to pique their interest. 
  • Read books that connect to their own life and family– Read books that your toddler can relate to. Even as early as toddlerhood, children need to feel like there are other people like them. 
  • Get involved at your local library- Many libraries offer story time for young kids. This is a great way to make reading fun, get out of the house, and let your child meet and interact with other kids!
  • Make your own books- As your child gets older, letting them create their own books is a great way to encourage a love of reading and writing! As a teacher, I’ve done this activity with kids who passionately hated reading beforehand and actually start to enjoy it after they make their own. You can use simple white paper and a stapler or get a little fancier and order these blank books that even have a hard cover! Once your child writes their own story, they will want to read it to everyone in the house (and the neighborhood)

The Best Toddler Books

The Best Toddler Books with Interactive Features

The Best Toddler Books with Texture

The Best Toddler Books with Sounds

Our Top 10 Favorite Toddler Books Overall

We have read and own tons of baby books! Of all our many books these 10 books have become both ours and our son’s favorites! All of them are linked in the title and picture in case you want to add them to your library too! 

1. "You're My Little Snuggle Bear" by Natalie Marshall

This was the very first book I ever bought my kids! My husband read it almost every single night to my belly and now my new baby loves it too!

2. "Around the Farm" By Eric Carle

This is a great book for car rides and the animal noise buttons are way more realistic than most sound books!

3. "My First I See You: A Mirror BOok" By Eric Carle

It’s no secret that both babies and toddlers love to look at themselves in a mirror. This mirror book will be a hit with both big and little ones.

4. "My First Peek-A-Boo Animals" by Eric Carle

Peek-a-boo and lift a flap books were the only things I could get my toddler interested in at first. He LOVED them! But now we are able to read multiple Dr. Seuss books in a row! This is a great place to start if your little one can’t sit still.

5. "Baby Shark: Chomp!" By Pinkfong

As unfortunate as it is, this Baby Shark book is one of my toddler’s favorites. A tab at the top lets you move the mouth up and down and he laughs hysterically on every page to get his fingers chomped by the shark.

6. "Good Morning, Good Night!" by Annie Alexander

The book has both flaps they can lift up and textures underneath to keep them interested. It’s one I recommend to all my mom friends. 

7. "Don't Forget to Remember" by Ellie Holcomb

This one is for all the Christian mamas out there. This is such a sweet reminder to your young kids that God will never forget them and loves them more than they know. It gets me close to tears every time.

8. "I'll Love You Till the Cows Come Home" by Kathryn Cristaldi

I love this book every time, no matter how many times we’ve read it. And my toddler loves it too!

9. "Dr. Seuss's Book of Animals" by Random House

There is just something about the silliness of this book that my toddler can’t get enough of.

10. "We are in a Book!" by Mo Willems

This was one of my absolute favorites as a teacher and still is as a mom. Bonus points with your toddler if you use different voices for elephant and piggie! 

This post was all about why, what, and how to read to toddlers who can’t sit still. I’ll be the first to admit that consistently reading to your toddler can feel like a daunting and impossible task at first! Start small, just a minute or two each day. Slowly build your toddler’s attention and interest. If you use these books and tips for reading books to toddlers, story time will be soon be something fun that everyone looks forward to! 

Getting through a single book used to be a huge struggle for us and now my toddler flips through “reading” books all by himself! It will all pay off!

-Beautifully Busy Mom

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