Tips for Engaging the Youngest Readers

You don’t have to look far when trying to find information on the importance of reading to children at young ages.  Studies after studies have shown how important it is for not only language growth but overall intelligence as well.  Some experts claim it to be THE single most important thing you can do for your children….read to them.

Now that is all well and good, but I have found it can be particularly challenging to engage children in stories between the ages of 1 to 3, depending on the maturity of the child.  Right around one year is when a child may begin to walk and soon after, their primary job is to MOVE and discover the world around them.  They are on the GO, GO, GO!  Constant moving coupled with a short attention span (all of this is completely normal) can be enough for parents to throw their arms up and just give up reading to their children altogether during this phase.  I get it…it is HARD to keep trying to read to your child when they are bouncing from one thing to the next hardly glancing your way.  BUT I am here to say, do not give up!  Instead, I think we just have to be a bit more sneaky with our approach. 

Listed below are some common problems you may run into when trying to engage these children in storytime, along with solutions to keep you going!




Problem #1:  I don’t think I have the right books OR enough books.

First and Foremost, make sure you are choosing age-appropriate stories.  Books for that tricky reading age between 1-3, are short, simple, and have colorful engaging pictures.  If you aren’t sure where to start, feel free to check out my pinterest book list page here for some suggestions or browse the internet for age specific reading lists.  There are plenty out there.

If you have a small book stash and want to build it, there are really inexpensive ways to do so.  Some obvious places to look are consignment shops, library book sales, or even used books on Amazon.  Don’t forget to take some good old fashion trips to the library as well to check out “new to you” books to enjoy each month. 

Sign up to receive FREE BOOKS from Dolly Parton!  If you are unfamiliar with this, let me be the first to tell you that she started an Imagination Library program years ago with a mission of making sure every child has access to quality books.  Her program sends each registered child one fantastic age-appropriate book every month from birth to five years of age.  She has programs in just about every state so if you are not a member, click here and sign up!  Check out some of the latest books we have received from her!  Thank you Dolly!!!


Problem #2:  My child doesn’t sit still long enough to hear a story.

Read the Pictures.  If your child won’t sit and listen to a story no matter what, give the book to them and ask them to “read” the pictures to you.  They can read the story by telling you what is happening on each page and flipping through pages at their own pace.  This is a great activity for language development and also a good strategy to use for those kids seeking more “talking” rather than “listening” time during stories.  Another option: Read the FIRST LINE on each page to them, pausing after a couple pages to ask what they are thinking.  This is another great tip for balancing out listening time with talking time in an effort to keep them more engaged.

If you are having trouble getting them to even glance at a book, consider having storytime during a snack or right after a meal while they are sitting in their highchair or booster.  Sitting in a relatively distraction free spot may be the best place to start for some little ones.

Extend reading time with a few props!  After the story, act it out with felt story pieces, puppets, stuffed animals, dolls or figures, or make a simple craft that might encourage them to talk more about the story.  This will keep the story going a little longer, and yes build language too!


 Problem #3:  My child destroys books. 

They are likely to be teething during this phase and may rather chew on a book than listen OR maybe they turn the pages so hard they rip?  If that is the case, grab TWO stories.  One for them (a board book or one that is harder to destroy) AND one for you.  Let them handle their book while you sit with them and read yours aloud.  Even though this may not be the perfect scenario, don’t worry, they are still listening.  There have been several times I have read aloud to my own children when they appeared to be doing something else altogether.  That’s OK…keep on reading!

 Problem #4:  My child is totally uninterested.

Rotate! Rotate! Rotate!  We all get bored when presented with the same thing day after day.  So do your children!  Books are an easy way to keep things fresh.  In our home, we have one central library (on a big bookshelf in the basement) and I pull about 5-10 stories each week to display in a reading basket in our family room to highlight and read together as time allows.  These stories may revolve around a theme, something they may be interested in, or just a mix of everything in between!  It really doesn’t matter, just keeping things fresh and accessible is the goal.  

Read ANYWHERE!!  Be creative in finding some reading spots around your home to spice things up and don’t be afraid to sneak some stories into their playtime too.  We have read in forts by flashlight, on blankets in the backyard, at tea parties, teddy bear picnics, and even in laundry baskets.  The sky is the limit when choosing a new reading spot and sometimes just a change of scenery is all they need.


Hopefully some of these tips helped to get you thinking about how to keep things going if you find yourself in a frustrating place when it comes to storytime with your little one.  It can be hard at times to keep trying when they appear to not even be engaged one tiny bit;  but whatever you do, do not give up.  The rewards are simply just TOO great.




**Disclaimer:  All communication tips offered in the blog are not meant to substitute for professional speech and language services if your child qualifies for them.  They are meant for educational purposes only,  to provide simple examples of ways to promote speech and language development in children.

About Kelly

Wife, Mom to two precious little girls, and Speech-Language Pathologist who is passionate about helping all children develop their very best communication skills while making learning fun, creative and meaningful along the way!
This entry was posted in Literacy, Parent Tips, Tips for the Everyday and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>