Being a parent is time-consuming, so it's sometimes challenging to find time to sneak in reading with a toddler. But it's completely possible -- even with a busy schedule! Here are my favorite ways of turning everyday activities into reading opportunities.
1. Bedtime Reading. Each and every night. If you have a hard time fitting reading into your day, try putting a book on your toddler's pillow or inside his crib in the morning, and it will be there as a reminder to read at night or at nap time.
2. Grocery Shopping. Take a few extra seconds while picking out your groceries to point out the first letter of specific items, such as the letter "p" on the sign for pears. You can say something like, “Look -- it's a ‘p.' What do you think the ‘p' is for?" Your toddler may not be ready for letter recognition, but she will know what familiar foods are called, and you can build on that while simultaneously checking off an errand of your to-do list!
3. Doctor's/Dentist's Office. I'm not sure about you, but it's a rare time when I don't have to wait for longer than I expect at a doctor's office. Although the exam room normally has books, once you are called in the selection usually dwindles considerably. I once read a whole article about Afghan nomads to my daughter because there were no books for her. The lesson here is to take books along with you! Pop some in your purse or diaper bag.
4. Older Sibling's Sports Practice. In the past, when I have suggested taking books to a baseball game, the response I've received is, “But it might get dirty or wet in bad weather." The solution? Buy bath books! They are long enough to keep a toddler interested, light enough to pack more than one, and completely water- and dirt-proof. If the weather is bad -- and if, after reading, your toddler ends up in puddles like mine does -- the book can also accompany him into the bath when you return home.
5. On the Go (aka, In the Car). It seems like my daughter spends much more time than my son ever did in a car -- not only getting from place to place for her activities, but shuttling her brother to and from his, as well. After buckling in my daughter, my next move is to ask her what book she would like. Although she can't read independently yet, she will sit and tell me stories from the backseat about the pictures in her book. This is an important pre-reading step and beats flipping through station after station on the radio.
6. Laundry. Yes, even household chores can be a reading lesson and a fun one, too. One of the first items in print your toddler will recognize is her name and the names of other family members. Make simple labels for laundry baskets and sort through your clothes. Your toddler will likely know who the purple sweater belongs to and will have fun sorting by name.
7. Working Out. I like to run, and my daughter is a frequent companion in the jogging stroller. While I run, she reads. We found that board books are the best in the stroller because their pages don't turn on their own in the wind, are a little more weather resistant than plain paper books, and are easy for little fingers to manipulate without any help. They also make a really loud thud when dropped from a stroller if the reader decides to take a nap!
8. Cooking Dinner. I know it's easy to turn on the TV at this time of day; I do it, too. But a few times a week or more, invite your toddler to help you prepare the meal. Take the time to show him a recipe, ingredients, and things like the writing on measuring cups. You will be introducing your child to purposeful reading even before he can read.
Life is busy, so on those days when you crash into bed and try to remember if you showered or not, don't beat yourself up if you haven't done any of these reading activities. Parenting is hard, and toddlers are exhausting. But, if you can try to fit some of these into your toddler's day, they will add up quickly and you will be back on track!