The 10 Best Toddler Books
Choosing Topnotch Toddler Books
If there is one thing a parent or other caregiver can do that most benefits the emotional and intellectual development of a toddler, it is reading to the child. Young children who are regularly exposed to books enjoy enhanced social and academic development because the stories often expose them to situations involving everything from caring to conflict, and concepts ranging from mathematics to science to history and beyond.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued formal statements urging parents to read to young children in 2014, stating that the practice "Stimulates early brain development and helps build key language, literacy and social skills," according to Jeffrey Brown of PBS. The earlier a child is exposed to reading, the more likely they will be a lifelong lover of books and of learning in general. While almost any and all reading can be of some benefit to the youngster, choosing the best books for your child requires both thought and intuition on the part of the book buyer (or the one who holds the library card).
In the broadest of terms, you can divide books written for young children into two categories: those directly intended to teach a specific skill or to transfer specific information, and those intended more for entertainment and/or to stimulate the imagination. In the first category we find books designed to help a youngster learn his or her numbers or to assist with a child's acquisition of the alphabet. So too can you find books with the goal of imparting knowledge of colors or shapes, or those that are focused on a specific skill a child needs to become familiar with and then master, such as using the potty, using polite manners, and so forth.
In the other category, we have books that are principally intended to entertain and engage a child, much like good fiction does for an adult. In truth, even most of these books are generally geared at teaching some life skill such as kindness, sharing, or patience. They simply do so through the medium of story and illustration, effectively serving as allegories instead of taking a more direct, didactic approach. Ultimately, it's a good idea to balance both types of book, so a child is exposed to concept he or she has to internalize but is not always expected to take a rote approach to learning.
And keep in mind that there are exceptions to both of these general rules, such as a number of the classic works by Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein, for example -- many of the works of these two authors might seem to be neither didactic nor a morality tale. In fact, playful prose is wonderful for the development of a youngster's linguistic skills and creative thinking.
While it's always a good idea to challenge a young mind, there is a tipping point at which the vocabulary, syntax, or content of a given book will too far surpass a child's level to prove valuable. When choosing a toddler book, make sure your child understands the majority of the words in it, and be ready to elaborate on the concepts covered. (Asking questions like: "How do you think the character is feeling?" for example.) Pictures and words together help a child understand a concept with greater ease, and great illustrations help to engage a child. Just make sure that whichever book you choose you are ready to set aside if it simply doesn't catch a child's attention. Also make sure that you immediately try another book, and if need be another after that.
As Your Young Child Learns To Read
Most children will be in a stage that can be called "pre-literate" at ages four through five. They will likely recognize all letters, both in capital and lower case form, and will begin to write certain letters as well. Many children at this age can identify certain words by sight (simple words like "cat" or "dog," or their own names, for example) and may be able to sound out some words using their letter sounds, and will begin to develop phonemic awareness, which is the understanding that words are made up of smaller sounds working in concert.
On the other hand, some children will be reading by age four or five, albeit on a basic level. The time at which your child learns to read to himself or herself is exciting, and, contrary to what the initial conception may be, it is a time for ever more vigilant involvement from the parent, caregiver, or teacher, not for less attention.
As a child begins to read, he or she may internalize errors that will require later re-teaching. Make sure to give a child the space to read alone if such seems desired, but keep tabs by asking questions and for the occasional read aloud to make sure they are on the right track.
And just as soon as your child begins to read books at one level, you should find a host of books that are slightly above their reading level and continue reading aloud to the youngster. In this manner, you can maintain the bond reading together forms and can keep on challenging your child to develop and excel.
A Few Words On The Toddler Brain
A toddler -- taken to refer to a child roughly between two and four years of age -- has a lot going on in his or her brain. In fact, by the time a child has reached the third year of life, about eighty percent of their brain has already developed.
Much of this development comes in the form of the muscle memory required to complete basic actions like running, jumping, and balancing, and much of it comes in developing visual and conceptual fundamentals, such as identifying shapes, colors, size, distance and spatial perception and so on.
But a child can also learn an amazing amount of information that goes beyond these basics, and much of the more in depth, nuanced concepts youngsters can (and eventually must) embrace can be introduced and reinforced through books. Concepts such as compassion, patience, and fairness do not necessarily come naturally to a toddler -- the young brain may be largely developed, but the neural pathways required for advanced thinking and the many memories that help inform it still must be created.