About reading books to toddlers (how I adapt the experience for them).


Those of us who are privileged to get trained have the insider knowledge of how to read books to groups of children “the Montessori way”, and how to turn book pages “the Montessori way”.  There’s lots of things that can be done “The Montessori way”, haha.

Well in addition to that,  I’ve learned to adapt the book reading experience for infants and young children in order to make reading books to younger children a captivating and successful experience more often than not. And I make these extra adaptations in the following ways:

BOOK TIPS FOR TODDLERS, 18 months to 36 months (see a previous post for reading books to infants)

~never put out more than three books to choose from, maybe 4  maximum depending upon your group.  That wasn’t a typo; THREE. All the rest of the books can be stored on a shelf, dresser top, or cabinet well out of the child’s reach.  When they burn out on the three books made available, rotate them out.

~Designate a specific place where the children can sit to read books.  This is either at a table, or another designated sitting area specifically where books are read.  Whatever they sit on to read books needs to be ok to get peed on/ washable.

I recommend yoga mats cut into small circles, wooden chair cushions on the floor maybe with a pillow if they can handle it, ALSEDA stool from IKEA, maaaaaybe a little couch if your kids can handle the responsibility of leaving the cushions where they belong, and not jumping off of it.  I don’t recommend a couch in your classroom unless you’re a guide who can establish clear and firm limits. If the children can’t be safe and responsible with the couch, goodbye couch.  Though beautiful, a couch for reading not a necessity in a classroom, I’ll tell you that.  Sitting on the floor and getting up from sitting on the floor is great for health and gross motor coordination. Young toddlers need to move a lot!

~ For those of us who are trained, I learned that  I get about 15 seconds maximum of verbal reading attention before I completely lose a young child.  Basically two eight counts (if you’re musically inclined) before they get bored or left behind and their mind wanders.   I also want to give them the ability to “read independently” eventually, so I need to give them phrases they can memorize.   I have indeed heard children memorize entire books that they can  learn to sit, read to themselves independently in full, and enjoy.  Which is a beautiful accomplishment for them, and for me as a guide.

Sometimes I adapt what the book says, and cut out all the extra language that would be great for a child three and up, but would lose a toddler. I deliberately pick the parts a toddler would “understand” and possibly memorize.  For example, in the book “Sleep Baby Sleep”, by Maryann Cusimano Love,  it would go like this: (check the free preview to understand what I’m about to do)…

“Sleep baby sleep, snuggled like a sheep. <<skip all this extra fluff>> Sleep baby sleep.”

“Rise baby rise, wipe the sleep from your eyes. Rise baby rise”.

~If a child is struggling to be present with the group, but is obviously interested in hearing the story (they struggle to stay seated, keep trying to grab the book, touch the book, stand in other people’s line of sight), that is the child who needs to sit in your lap.

~In order to have enough reading time (which I feel is great for language, provides a lower energy activity, creates a ritual or sense of routine for our daily schedule, and helps the children practice attention/ patience), we discovered that we needed a “reading time” specifically devoted to reading books.  For us, it’s after we play outdoors, and before lunch.  During this time, there are three board books made available that children can hold and look at independently, and I’m reading books to a group of children.  Otherwise, I found that us adults are all just too busy managing other things to sit down and read books to the children on a consistent basis.   My assistants are also always welcomed to read books to children when time (rarely) permits.

~If a book is just not captivating enough to the children, and they would prefer to do anything but listen to a book, go with it.  The group will tell you what works and what doesn’t work in any given moment.  Maybe you need to switch books. Maybe they just don’t want to hear stories that day. Maybe they would prefer to work yet again.  Totally okay.

I also adapt the books based on what the child is learning from the book. I make these adaptations both based on the books I choose, and the individual lines within the book.  I’m basically censoring the book content for my kiddos’ benefit, and to consciously shape their learning experiences. 

<<>> I want to be clear that these next few paragraphs are me speaking from my personal experiences trying to eliminate maladaptive behaviors of children in my classrooms, and is not something that came from Montessori training, though I’m sure most Montessori toddler guides who have had to deal with challenging behaviors would likely agree with what I’m about to suggest. <<>>

Toddlers learn what TO do by everything they get exposed to.  They also learn what to say based on everything they hear other people say. Everything. Even books.

So if a book talks about doing something, good or bad, the child is going to learn all about that.  If a book talks about doing anything you don’t want a toddler to start doing, don’t read about it.

Don’t expose young children to anything you don’t want them to absorb into their repertoire.  Do read about all the things you do want a child to absorb into their repertoire. This is why it’s so vitally important to seriously pre-screen all media a young child is getting exposed to– iPads, phones, TV, and yes, even books, which seem harmless to the uninitiated.

If you want a child who is peaceful, loving, gentle,  kind, and friendly, they need to be exposed to the behaviors and language of peace, kindness, and gentleness.   If you want a child who is obsessed with guns, who talks about guns, and who pretends that everything is a gun, let them watch one ghostbusters movie one time in their life, or let them see your partner playing call of duty every night (aka a child in my classroom and my toddler nephew).    If you want a kiddo who knows a lot about cars, give them cars, let them watch Disney’s Cars, and read books about cars.

If you want a child who knows all about hitting, keep reading them the book “hands are not for hitting”.   If you want a toddler who bites, keep reading them “Teeth are not for Biting”, “No Biting!”, “Little Dinos Don’t Bite”, and books about animals biting things.

Does that make sense?  They will know and become like whatever you read to them… or expose them to.

A parent who has a kid who hits or bites is probably inclined to run out and get those “____ is not for ____ ing” books.  Fully trained Montessori guides read this book to the children in their classrooms.  But I’m suggesting you should avoid those books. I will  not read these books in my classroom, ever, because I can’t have kids going home having learned about these concepts; and talking about “hit” and “bite”.

Just about everything in the Montessori world is counterintuitive in comparison to what people are “naturally” or instinctually inclined to do with young children.  If you want a peaceful child, give them peaceful books, and censor out anything aggressive.

Here’s an example of a book I had to censor for my classroom… The book “If you plant a seed” by Kadir Nelson.  The only part relevant to toddlers is the part about planting actual vegetable seeds, and the part about sharing and growing kindness.  I grabbed it spontaneously, failing to skim the book ahead of time, and wasn’t expecting all the stuff about planting a seed of selfishness. Oops.  So I had to skip all that.  An older child can likely understand and handle the “seed of selfishness”. A toddler? Nope, they cannot.


Another good example, “The Nice Book”, by David Ezra Stein.

Another seemingly great book. Until you get to the line “When you get in a snit, don’t hit”— uh, no.  No, no no.  I can’t read this to my toddlers, are you kidding me?

It has thus been modified to “When you get in a snit, use your words”.  I don’t care if that doesn’t rhyme as well as “hit” and “snit”; because again, I can’t have young children who are learning how to talk running home and saying the phrase “don’t hit”.

Books in foreign languages are awesome.  I have been blessed with multi-lingual assistants. The kids adore my assistant from Japan and her Japanese board books, which interestingly enough are read from back to front! Animals  make different noises depending upon which country or culture  you’re from, which is really fun for young children.

Finally, care of books: if your board books get scribbled in, a barely damp Magic Eraser will do the trick. Wipe the page with a dry paper towel after you magic erase it.  Clear packaging tape and our gluing box does the trick for any torn pages of paper books, or parts of books that ripped or get peeled off.

If you offer toddlers books that have flaps to lift or turn, you can reinforce them with clear packaging tape so that they don’t rip off after the intense use that a classroom of toddlers will deliver to any book you put on the shelf.  Packaging tape the top and the underneath of any flaps, and trim the tape neatly around the shape of the flap.  Flap books are wildly popular when read by my assistant, who is magical about letting each kid take turns revealing what’s behind the flaps.

If you have a distinct set of paper-paged books that are irreplaceable (I have a collection of amazing books from New Zealand which I found at an American Good Will store), you can designate those as “teacher-led books”, store them in a ziplock bag at all times, and pull them out when an adult is available to facilitate reading them.

So that’s my schpiel about reading books to toddlers (:

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