I almost have a hard time calling an 18-month-old a toddler, but I realize that is the correct term. But one year old baby/toddlers need lots of read-aloud time with Mama, too, and we are laying groundwork for the longer books of our future with the books we read today.
1. Consistent book exposure -- It may sometimes feel like the books are just everywhere, and try your sanity a bit as you try to keep them tidy. However, having print (and pictures) accessible to your little one will greatly benefit them down the road, and increase the likelihood that they will request to be read to. Being able to look through a book at their leisure introduces the concept of independent reading. To make books accessible, consider keeping some in baskets in regular play areas, or at least in reach of their little fingers. I have a gorgeous bookshelf mounted up above our changing table that Susie cannot reach, and that's where I keep the special books that I wouldn't want to have ruined (for now). However, the vast majority of her books are all over the place. I'm thrilled that she has the freedom to "read" those books to herself. One time I cracked up to see her reading Cat in the Hat and saying "NO NO NO!!!" If you recall, "no no no" is the major theme of the book -- the cat making trouble and the fish and kids wanting him to leave -- so she was telling herself the story as she looked at the pictures.
2. Familiarity -- this is the reason that kid's birthday parties often have the theme of their favorite "characters": the kids feel like they know those characters through consistent exposure. Several months back I noticed that Susie was frequently saying the names of the characters in her books, and recognizing them everywhere. For example, every monkey was "George". It dawned on me (over time) that she liked reading the same books over and over because it was like she knew these people. So, as much as I'd like to broaden her horizons by introducing new books every day, I know it will take time for her to warm up. Here's how I introduce a new full-length picture book:
- I let her flip through the book while I point out things happening in the pictures. I let her handle most of the pages, even though I keep the book moving forward (no need to read every page if she skips one). You may let your child do this several times or on several occasions if necessary before actually reading it.
- I read the book (if she hasn't cast it aside already) out loud as far through as I can. I might possibly summarize parts of longer pages to keep the pace going.
- The 3rd time through (assuming she wants to read it again, or perhaps if we pick it up later) I read it entirely. By this point, she has gotten a pretty good grip on what will happen and the story is far more enjoyable if I don't leave anything out.
- Henceforth, I usually insist on her waiting to turn the page until I have finished reading what is on the page (more on this later), though I don't insist we finish reading the book if she loses interest (this is not usually a problem. By this point, it will surely be "again!" when we get to the end).
3. Freedom and responsibility -- at this point, I still want my baby to have freedom to explore the books.
- I don't always require her to sit on my lap (or sit at all) while I'm reading to her. Usually she does (she's a cuddler) but sometimes on our 4th time through a book, she just can't hold still any longer, and she will stand and look at the book, or even walk around a little and come back. Unless I can tell she's just done, I keep reading.
- If she is inclined to do so, I let her turn the pages. Usually this is a favorite part of reading for this age level. When a child tries to turn a page too early, it might seem like they don't care about the story, which can be discouraging. However, I think that most likely it is just their eagerness to do their part and see what is coming next. Sometimes I say "just wait, mommy has to finish reading this page" and sometimes I let her turn it, look, and then I turn back and pick up where we left off. We are gently guiding these little ones to understand the order of a book, and at the same time teaching them patience and responsibility.
- This is the age to begin to instruct them in responsibility for their books. I don't let Susie walk on her books (paper page books, that is), or throw them. When we read, sometimes she wants to put her feet on the pages, but since I think that could tempt her to kick and tear the pages, I tell her not to put her feet over the pictures. All of this sort of instruction is done in a very patient and gentle manner.