How to Help Your Toddler Graduate From Board Books to the Real Deal

When everyone’s sure where baby’s belly button can be found, use these tips to help your toddler make the transition to the next phase of reading together.

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My children know that a request to snuggle up together with a book is a reliable way to get Mom’s attention. Even my youngest has his irresistible back-ended wiggle into my lap down pat. Repeated readings of classic board books like catchy “Moo, Ba, La, La, La,” sweet “Goodnight Moon,” or simple-yet-for-some-reason-always-hilariously-surprising “Peek-A Who?” are part of the fabric of countless children’s childhoods – and rightfully so. Reading together from birth fosters positive relationships, builds vocabulary, and contributes to later school success.
There comes a time, however, when the board book spines are cracked (or in the case of my third child, chewed), the flaps are falling off, and the furry spots on the Touch-and-Feel animals feel a little greasy. When everyone is pretty darn sure where baby’s belly button can be found, use these tips to help your toddler make the transition to the next phase of reading together:

Teach book care

Everyone is more likely enjoy reading a wider variety of books together if your toddler learns a bit about how to treat them. Get rid of those paper jackets on hardcover books – all they do is get crushed or used as hats anyways. With great fanfare, show your toddler how to turn pages carefully. Demonstrate how to put books back on the shelf without mangling them. If books do get damaged, invest in some clear packing tape and have your child help you lovingly fix them.

Choose the right “training books”

When you ask your toddler to buy into a book outside his usual repertoire, make sure the experience will be attention grabbing. Alphabet books like “Eating the Alphabet” by Lois Ehlert and “ABC Drive!” by Naomi Howland gave our always-hungry, vehicle-loving older kids the pointing and participating opportunities they needed to stay engaged. Books that naturally invite the use of exaggerated expression worked well too. Make up your own out-of-tune version of the song in “Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes” by James Dean, or imagine yourself on stage as you convey the suspense in “The Little Mouse, The Big Hungry Bear, and the Red, Ripe Strawberry” by Audrey and Don Wood. Stick to books without too many words on the page or that page will get ripped as your toddler rushes to turn it prematurely. Choose bright, splashy illustrations over monochrome pencil sketches.

Work up to it

When I reached the point with my oldest son when I could no longer face Spot the dog without a grimace, I decided to add a few select hardbacks to our book basket. My son couldn’t sit still for them to be read as written, so we first just pointed to each familiar farm animal in “Duck on a Bike.” In moments of exceptional attention, I ad-libbed the story – “Look! Then the cat rode a bike!” – and over time added more of the actual text. Our enjoyment of “If You Give a Pig a Pancake” and “If You Give a Pig a Party” by Laura Numeroff began with just flipping the pages to find the pancakes and balloons, but we progressed from there. Some days, I skipped sections if my son was on a power page-flipping tear. After some time, my always-in-motion kid actually sat to hear whole stories, and even began to call me out when I changed or skipped sections.
Embrace slow-and-steady, strategically choosr your next book move, and channel your inner thespian to expand your reading experiences with your toddler. Save those old favorites, though – by the time you have your next kid, you’ll look forward to lifting those flaps and exclaiming over where cute little Spot might be hiding all over again.