Babies and toddlers first experiences in reading will often determine their love for reading in the future. We as parents, guardians, and teachers need to ensure that we not only read to them but that we make reading an enjoyable experience. Reading time needs to be one of the highlights of their day. Not only through spending quiet time with a significant adult but making reading really fun.

When my children were growing up they had their favorite books which we ended up reading over and over again. Sometimes the thought of reading that same book again would be almost too much for me to bear! So I began to bring those books alive in a different way for my children. I did this by using different voices for each character and sometimes acting out parts of the book. I found that their eyes lit up in a new and entirely different way than before. I even became more excited about reading time and found myself constantly thinking up new ways to make it even better. When my daughter was around two years old she was turning the pages in her favorite book and reading the words verbatim. She had memorized it word for word and knew exactly when to turn the page. People who came to visit were astonished because they thought she was actually reading!

Sometimes we would act out the books we knew and loved. We played a game we made up that was a type of charades. We would each try and think of a book we loved and act it out to try and get the others to guess what it was. Both of my children loved this game and wanted to play it over and over. This game helped them as they got older to stage their own plays and act them out with their cousins and friends when we were all together as a family. Not only did this make the books come to life but it really encouraged them to use their imaginations and made the stories real.

When my daughter was a toddler we bought her several handheld puppets. She loved it when I would talk through one of these puppets to her. I began making up stories of my own and using the hand puppets to help me out. She loved the puppets and would talk to them as if they were real. She told me when she got older that she knew it was me talking but she did not care because she loved talking to those puppets! She would only look at the puppet and her eyes would dance as they talked back and forth. It is still a treasured memory.

When my son came along we had to give up the puppets because he would actually get upset with me and tell me that the puppet was not talking, that in fact it was only me talking! He would not stand for it and did not want to be a part of story time in that way. I really do not know what he was thinking to this day. Somehow it upset him as if I was telling him a lie. We stopped using puppets and I tried turned to stuffed animals for storytelling. This did not seem to bother him in the least. I guess it was because their mouths were not moving. My daughter and I still had our one on one moments with the puppets but never when my son was present!

Both kids loved the stories using the stuffed animals as props so we were good again. There was one particular story they wanted to hear over and over again. We had a black and white cow stuffed animal at the time. I made up a story about him walking through the meadow and smelling the flowers but then he came upon a bees hive and the bees started chasing him and stinging his rear end. He began to jump and kick and as he did my voice got sillier. My son and daughter would be rolling on the floor by the time I was finished and then they would ask for it all over again. Children can really see the stories come to life when you use props and silly voices; you can just see the story unfolding in their eyes.

Another really fun thing we did was the hidden picture books. We would sit as a family all huddled around the books trying to find those hidden objects. We were big fans of the Highlights magazine for kids. They had hidden pictures, stories, art and poems done by other kids, and comic strips, etc. My children could not wait for the magazine to get there every month. My daughter even submitted (with a little help from her parents) a poem when she was four that got included in the magazine! She was thrilled. She made it up and we wrote it down and sent it in. We still have that magazine in our possession.

My son was a huge fan of the Goofus and Gallant cartoon in the Highlights magazine about one boy who was obedient and did good deeds for others and the other boy who did not follow directions and left work undone. I would tell him that he was my Gallant which always made him smile. He is older now and when he is being silly I will tell him he is a goof, he corrects me and says “No momma, I am Gallant!”

Something else that really helps to stimulate a desire for reading and imagination is watching your children to see what really interests them. For instance if they are interested in dinosaurs there are some fantastic and colorful books about dinosaurs that can help stimulate their interests even greater. I remember a time when my daughter knew just about every dinosaur there was. She also loved the how to books that showed the way things were made. She had an interest in all things science so we looked for those types of books for her. As she grew older she not only wanted to know about real science but began a love for science fiction as well.

Our son loved construction books and books about the different types of construction equipment. His daddy was a superintendent on large construction jobs and often took him out to the sites. He wanted to learn everything there was to know about construction so he could share with his dad. He was also interested in books about animals and insects and loved to go out and collect some of the insects he had learned about in his books.

Over the years both of my children have grown in their love of books. In turn they have wonderful imaginations and creativity. Not only that but their vocabularies are extensive and their reading levels have always been on target or high for their age. Reading helps in every area of life because if you have an understanding and a love for the written word you can thrive in any area of study. You can travel the world in books and see things that you might otherwise never experience. Giving your children a love for reading is one of the very best gifts you can give them.



 Always curious, Ashley Hardway is constantly learning and passionate about sharing what she learns with others. Based in Houston, Texas, she loves to help families grow stronger, help their environments and communities, and keep moving forward! Check out @NannyLady on Twitter to connect and find out more.