How to Give Your Toddler a Headstart on Reading, For Ages 2-3

By Marilee Joy Mayfield

Taking a Picture Walk

Do you remember how you first learned about the natural world when you were a child? Maybe you went on simple nature walks with your mom or dad. You might have picked up a stray leaf or watched a ladybug crawl on a flower. As you continue to introduce your child to books, you can use this same approach. It’s called a picture walk.

Pretend the book is your backyard. You’re going to talk about it and “walk” through it, before you start to read the story inside it. The more you use this approach, the more you and your child will notice new surprises that you didn’t see before. Start by reading the title of the book and looking at the cover art. Mention the author’s name and tell your child that this is the person who wrote the story. Talk about the artist too and how the artist drew all the pictures in the book. This conversation sets the stage for encouraging your child to express herself through her own drawings and stories in the future.

Guide your child to take a slow, careful look at the art on the front and back cover. Ask him what he thinks the story is about. Listen carefully to his answers and share some of your own observations. Artists frequently hide something unexpected in illustrations or sometimes draw illustrations that are opposite to the story on the page. Watch for the hidden owl that’s peeking out of a hole in a tree.

Once you start turning the pages for the first time, you use the same approach. Talk about the illustrations as you “travel” from beginning to end. Ask your child some questions and share your own answers. What do you think the story is about? Who are the important people or animals in the book? What do you think is happening on this page? Is the main character happy, sad, or mad?

Of course, you’ll adjust these questions depending on the book. The idea is to have a conversation with your child as you’re taking this picture walk. Picture walks are like nature walks. Take it slow, have a loving conversation, and share with your child. Try to remember the first time you saw a butterfly or heard the sound of a frog croaking. When you’re a child, nature walks provide many memorable moments. Picture walks through books provide similar unforgettable delights and insights for you and your child.

Now it’s time to read the actual words that make up the book’s story. It’s also time for you as a parent to perform the story. Don’t be shy, go for the Academy Award! Use your voice to emphasize key words. If there are different characters and dialogue, have fun as you do a different voice for each. At this age, many children latch on to favorite books and want to have them read time and time again. With some creativity, you can make the book a slightly different experience each time. As you’re having a good time with your child, you’re encouraging the skills that ensure he will love reading.

While you are reading aloud, your child is starting to understand that letters make words, words can be sounded out, and that words strung together make sentences and eventually stories. Soon your child may begin to memorize some of the phrases in the story and repeat them. This is the beginning of your child’s ability to connect written words to the sounds they make when spoken. This connection is the first step that will lead to your child’s ability to read independently in the future.

Happy Reading!

 By Marilee Joy Mayfield

Marilee has 15 years experience in education writing fiction and nonfiction for children. Her works have been distributed through Barnes and Noble, Koorong, and Scholastic.