Reading to your child: 1–3 years

Reading to your child: 1–3 years
Toddlers often want to look at the same book over and over. At this age, it’s perfectly normal.

From ages 1 to 3, children are increasingly interested in books. They turn the pages, spend more time looking at the illustrations, and gradually discover the joy of storytime. They also love repetition and often ask for the same book over and over. Reading to your child is a wonderful way to bond with them and support their language skills.

How reading benefits your child

  • Reading stories to your child helps them develop language skills. Between the ages of 1 and 3, a toddler’s language develops in leaps and bounds. They quickly go from saying their first words to forming complete sentences. Books help to build their vocabulary.
  • Reading is an opportunity to interact with your child and build a strong attachment bond.
  • When introduced early, books become a source of entertainment and enjoyment. Your child will associate reading with spending quality time with you. If their first experience with books is at school, where learning to read is a requirement, they may develop a negative association with books and think of reading as a chore.
Children benefit most when they start reading at home. Without your involvement, the benefits of reading are much less significant.
  • Reading fosters an interest in writing. With you by their side, your child will subconsciously learn how to interact with a book, pick up new words, and discover the basics of writing: we hold books a certain way, we turn pages, the letters on the page have meaning, etc. Before they even start kindergarten, they’ll be acquainted with the letters of the alphabet.
  • Books foster your child’s imagination and curiosity. Your little one will quickly understand that stories are doors to other worlds.

How to read to your little one

12 to 18 months

  • Let your child explore the book. They may want to touch it, open it, turn the pages, etc.
  • When looking at picture books, pay attention to what interests your child the most. Point to and name what you see, or ask your child to show you specific things (e.g., characters, objects, actions).
  • Make storytelling exciting. Read with expression, do animal calls and other silly sounds, and draw connections between the pictures and real-life objects (e.g., your child’s animal figurines, their toy train).
  • Ask your child simple “where” and “who” questions, such as: “Where is the tractor?” and “Who ate the apple?”.

18 months to 3 years

  • Encourage your child to choose the book you’ll read. This way, they’ll be more attentive.
  • Let them set the pace and follow their cues. Since a toddler’s attention span is short, don’t insist on finishing the book if they’ve lost interest.
  • Read the book as written to help boost your child’s vocabulary. If they don’t understand what you’ve read, try to explain it in your own words. However, if their interest wanes or if the book is too complicated, feel free to adapt the story to their level.
  • Get your child to participate. Ask them questions about the story and characters. Find stories with relatable themes (e.g., not wanting to go to bed, celebrating a birthday) that connect to your child’s life.
  • Personalize the story. Make your child the hero of the story and name the other characters after their friends or family members.
  • Follow the sentences with your finger. This teaches your child that you read with letters, not pictures.
  • Get your child a library card so they can discover the joy of picking out their own books. You can also attend story hours at your library. Your little one might enjoy listening to stories with a group of other children.

Choosing a book

Look for colourful books with concrete, easy-to-understand pictures. Abstract illustrations are better suited to older children.

Choose books with simple stories that relate to your child’s everyday life (e.g., daycare, bedtime, potty training, birth of a baby brother), as these are more likely to pique their interest. Plus, hearing stories about difficult experiences similar to their own can be a form of bibliotherapy.

Books with a particular theme (e.g., cats, trucks, dinosaurs) are also a good choice for toddlers. They help your little one learn about the subjects that interest them.

How to foster your child’s interest in reading

  • Read books with your child frequently, not just before bed. You can also read before naptime or supper, or even at bathtime from a waterproof book.
  • Agree to read the same book again if that’s what your child wants. It’s normal for kids this age to want to read the same book over and over. The repetition helps them feel secure, and they understand the story better with each new reading.
  • Borrow books from the library regularly or trade books with friends. This way, your child always has access to new books and can develop an interest in particular subjects or genres. Keep reading their favourite books to them as often as they want.
Talking about books helps improve your child’s language skills, even if you’re discussing a story they’ve heard 100 times.
  • Set up a little reading nook in the living room or in your child’s bedroom to get them excited about reading time. Make sure they can reach their books on their own. Add pillows and blankets to their book nook to create a fun, cozy reading environment.
  • Read books or magazines for enjoyment. You’ll show your child that books are fun and exciting sources of knowledge. As their role model, you are the ideal person to inspire their love of reading.


The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that children under 2 not have any screen time, even if the device is used for reading. Once your child is older, you can read them the occasional e-book. However, print books should always be your first choice, as your child can handle and explore them with all five senses.

Things to keep in mind

  • When you read with your toddler, you’re supporting their language development and strengthening your parent-child bond.
  • Frequently reading books with your child, letting them pick their own books, and going to the library are all good ways to foster an interest in reading.
  • To keep your child interested, choose books with relatable stories that connect to their everyday life, or opt for educational books about their favourite topics.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Marie-Ève Bergeron-Gaudin, M.Sc., Speech-Language Pathologist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: October 2019


Photo: GettyImages/LumiNola


Sources and references

  • Bergeron-Gaudin, Marie-Ève. J’apprends à parler : le développement du langage de 0 à 5 ans. Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2018, 184 pp.
  • Ferland, Francine. Raconte-moi une histoire : pourquoi ? Laquelle ? Comment ? Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2008.
  • Nanhou, Virginie, et al. “La motivation en lecture durant l’enfance et le rendement dans la langue d’enseignement à 15 ans,” Institut de la statistique du Québec, vol. 8, no. 3, 2016.
  • Sloat, Elizabeth A., et al. “Parent-Mediated Reading Interventions With Children Up To Four Years Old: A Systematic Review.” Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing, vol. 38, no. 1, 2015, pp. 39–56.