How to Get Your Toddler Excited About Reading

As new parents, we’re told that we need to read to our kids. But what happens if you’re child doesn’t seem interested? What can you do to make reading more exciting- so they grow up to be lifelong learners? And what tools and resources can parents use to help simplify the process?

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  • Tonies

    The Toniebox is an imagination-building, screen-free digital listening experience that plays stories, songs, and more. Buy a Toniebox Made for little listeners Designed to foster imagination and active play for children ages three and up, it’s everything a young explorer’s growing mind needs!

Episode Transcript

Sunny Gault 0:02
As new parents, we're told that we need to read to our kids. But what happens if your child doesn't seem interested? What can you do to make reading more exciting, so they grow up to be lifelong learners. That's what we're exploring today on Parents Savers.

Sunny Gault 0:43
Welcome to Parents Savers. Parent Savers is your online on the go support group for parents with toddlers. I'm Sunny Gault. I'm a parent, I've got four kids of my own, who are way out of the toddler stage, but I remember it all too well. And we've got a great show for you guys today. Because we are talking about ways to encourage your children, your toddlers, and get them excited about reading. Now, before we get started, I would love for all of you listening to come on over join the fun on our online community. It's called Mighty Moms. It's an online group. It's absolutely free. And that's where we let you know about all of our upcoming recordings for not only parents savers, but other New Mommy Media events. So our other podcasts that we produce. And you can also connect with other parents and talk with them. You know, a lot of people have the same stage or in the same stage of parenting and basically continued the discussion of all these great topics that we're covering here on the show. Now, if you want access to that group, the easiest thing to do is go to Click on, there's a couple big blue banners, I think it says become a mighty mom. And then you can sign up. And again, it's absolutely free. We also have a weekly newsletter that you can sign up for. It's also on our website. And of course, it is a great way to stay updated with all of our content. So we don't hound you with emails, I promise, that we send out a weekly roundup of all the podcast episodes that we release each week. And we just want to make sure things don't fall through the cracks because we produce a ton of great content here. Okay, now before we dive into today's topic, let's go ahead and introduce the parents that are joining us today. And guys, we have a full house. And I love it when that happens because that we get a lot of great input and ideas on the conversation and the topic that we're talking about today. So let's go ahead, I guess I'll just call on you guys. We'll go around the room and just say a little bit about yourself and your family. Let's go ahead and start with Heather.

Heather Schalk 2:42
Hi, I'm Heather. I'm a twin mama two identical twin boys. They're currently two years old and in toddlerhood. We love getting out in our area and having fun and adventures. And I am the founder of twin mom roadmap and 15 minutes to milestones. I love helping children learn and I was a former teacher.

Sunny Gault 3:07
Oh, I love I think we have a couple teachers on here. So that leads me to Amber. Hi, Amber. Welcome to Parents Savers.

Amber Barham 3:14
Hi, I'm Amber. I am a mom to a boy who just turned three. And I have a little girl who is 15 months old. And I'm also a current teacher. I serve as a reading specialist in an elementary school.

Sunny Gault 3:29
That's awesome. I'm so excited to hear what you guys have to say in today's conversation. And then we have Christine Joining us now Christine is actually the host of parents savers sister show called Twin Talks. And she's also joining us today. So welcome, Christine.

Christine Stewart-Fitzgerald 3:44
Hey, Sunny, and Hey, everyone. Thanks for having me. Yes. Okay. So I have to say I have three girls, including twins and the twins came first. And then I had to get to learn what it's like to have a normal, you know, when singleton might we're we are definitely a household of girls. So my husband, he's learned how to be a girl dad. And they the he realized very quickly, we needed to get a dog. And so it's it is a male dog. He's the support. So yes, I'm excited to be here today. So thank you for having me.

Sunny Gault 4:20
Wow, you guys are awesome. I'm so glad we have so many qualified and you know, people different experiences, different age kids. This is awesome. a lot of twin parents, which is great. I'm a twin parent as well. So that's awesome. And Drew... Drew I didn't forget about you Drew is also our expert today, but he's the dad. And so I wanted to include in this part of the show as well. So hi, Drew, Welcome to Parents Savers!

Drew Vernon 4:44
Hello. It's great to be here. Thanks for having me. I'm the Education Director for Tonies. I came previously from another toy company Lego, and I'm a dad. I've got three kids and I am really passionate about early literacy In childhood development.

Sunny Gault 5:01
That's amazing. Awesome. Well, thank you all for being here today, I just want to open up the conversation, just kind of grease the wheels a little bit and ask you guys an opening question. And that is, do you feel like your child or children? I know a lot of you have multiple kids had a natural curiosity towards reading? Or did you have to take more of an active role in getting them excited about reading? And you know, anyone can go Drew, do you want to start, you know, kind of kick us off a little bit?

Drew Vernon 5:30
Yeah, I mentioned I've got three kids, and they all have three different personalities, and three different kind of gravitation is I guess, to reading, so I've had everything from, you know, begrudging, acceptance to just voracious appetite. So I do think in some cases, you need to prompt it along. In some cases, you get lucky and you get somebody who's into it.

Sunny Gault 5:55
Yeah, well, that's totally true. Every kid is a little bit different. Right? I would love to hear from some of our other teachers. So I don't know. You know, Heather and Amber. You guys have any thoughts on this? I know some of you guys might have younger kids. So you may not have experienced this as much.

Heather Schalk 6:08
Yeah, sure. So um, yeah, my twin boys did have natural curiosity. We also did make sure to provide books out of very young age. So when they were just little, little baby newborns. We made sure to have like the, the fun crinkle books, the board books that with tummy time. And then when they started going in there baby bouncers, actually putting a book in their hands and then just engaging. So we just kind of with those, like facilitating those positive experiences very early on, which seems to have paid off now in their two year toddlerhood.

Sunny Gault 6:47
Yeah, definitely. I think we're gonna probably talk about that a little bit more as we go along. But getting kids excited earlier. That's, I think that's going to be a theme that comes up you know, in today's episode, for sure, well, we've got a lot to get to today, everyone's gonna have a chance to chat and, and do all that fun stuff. But for now, we're going to take a quick break, and we will be right back.

Sunny Gault 7:13
Today on Parents Savers, we are brainstorming different ways we can get our toddlers to be curious about reading, and perhaps even start them reading before school. Wouldn't that be nice. Drew Vernon is our expert today. You met him just a little bit ago. He is the Director of Education for Tonies where he works to promote screen free education for kids. And he's got a ton of experience encouraging play between parents and their kids. So again, thank you so much drew for being with us today on the show.

Drew Vernon 7:41
Thank you for having me.

Sunny Gault 7:44
Yay. Okay, so Drew in preparing for today's episode, I saw this statistic. And you know, it's like, you know, you see all these statistics, and you're like, is that real? But I saw this statistic that said, one in three children in the US start kindergarten without the necessary literacy skills. Now you've been in this space a while? Do you see similar stats, because that sounds pretty scary to me.

Drew Vernon 8:06
It is pretty scary. And I, I have seen a variation of that stat. And I think a lot of it goes to the changes that the kids are facing today. And the things that might be taking them away from reading. So it doesn't surprise me, unfortunately,

Sunny Gault 8:21
And I guess that's part of our role as parents is to kind of steer them away from that other stuff, which we're gonna talk about today, and get them going on the right path. Because as we mentioned, you know, before the break, you know, it is about starting early, you know, and developing habits. I think that's like the majority of parenting right is getting into like routines, and, you know, getting them excited about doing things that are good for them. So Drew when it comes to reading, I've heard one of the best ways and you know, I've done this as a parent as well, is to have them hear other books, things being read aloud to them, or even if you know you as a parent can read to them as well. And this can start really early. Right. So when we're talking about getting kids excited about reading, is there an age where this is appropriate, because, you know, we have a sister show called Preggie Pals, and we've even talked on preggy pals about out loud reading while you're pregnant. Right? So I mean, that's pretty young for the kid. Does it start at a certain age? Or can you really start it as young as you want?

Drew Vernon 9:22
I think the important thing is just to start and and I don't know if it matters whether the child is still in utero. I haven't read the research on that. But what I do know is that the first step to literacy is listening to reading. So before children can, you know, make out words on a page or even letters, they can listen to the sounds. And so if you have a parent or a storyteller, that can read to you then that's something that can get you started on that path. You said you had three kids, right? I do. Yeah. So my kids are a little bit out of the toddler phase. I've got a girl who's 13, a boy who's 10, and another girl Who's seven?

Sunny Gault 10:01
Okay, so what was this like in your household? Right? Because you've been in this industry a while and you know, you experience things just as a dad. So what was that? What was that like in your house?

Drew Vernon 10:13
I think we've followed probably a similar path to many new parents where when it's your first one, it's easy, because you can sit, sit down, reach them at a very young age, then number two comes along. And by the time three comes, you're a little older and a little more tired. But I would say it was a focus for all three of my children just to sit down to spend time with them. Kind of one of my my side passions in additional literacy is just parent child play, and in promoting parents actually spending time with their kids. So I think reading serves multiple purposes, where it helps the child learn how to read and also creates that connection between parent and child.

Sunny Gault 10:54
Yeah, and that's a good point. Because with kids, it's not so much lecturing them about what needs to be done, it is encouraging them to do things through play, because that's really their language of communication, right? That's kind of their world. And so if we can incorporate all these different things through play, where it's, Hey, it's fun, you know, we're not scolding, we're not doing this kind of stuff. But we're interacting with our kids, and it's more fun. Would you agree that that's probably the best way to go about this?

Drew Vernon 11:20
I think so. Yeah, if you're forcing it, it's not going to stick, every child is going to have their own disposition. So you have to work within the personality of the child and look for maybe different interesting ways to engage them. But I think it all has to be, you know, without force.

Sunny Gault 11:37
So did you have any reading routines with your kids? I know, you said your kids are all a little bit different. Same thing in my house, right? Every kid's a little bit. Even my twins are different. What was that like in your house for reading? Was it like, Hey, okay, you're gonna, you know, brush your teeth and do all that kind of stuff. And then we're gonna have a bedtime story? Or did you do something a little different?

Drew Vernon 11:56
Mostly, for me, the routine is just that you got to do what I call like the vegetables before you get the hot fudge sundae. So if you're wanting to watch a show, if you're wanting to play Nintendo have a limited amount of screen time, it's going to come after those other activities. And that's really what I found to be a good motivator is, if they weren't inclined to do it intrinsically, sometimes the the carrot, you know, or the reward of something else might help them, you know, get through it.

Sunny Gault 12:27
Yeah, that's a good point. Because like I said, my kids are a little bit older now. So I deal more with screen time and all that. And usually, that is the reward. You mentioned screens, and I just talked a little bit about screen. So let's bring in the evil screen monster and talk about that a little bit, right, because this is a reality, this is a reality for a lot of parents, and you know, not to put anyone down because this is really easy to do. But I can't tell you how many times I'll be out in public. And you know, a mom and dad will try to be let's say, you know, have a dinner together or whatever. And there's a screen in front of the kid because they really don't know what else to do. So this is a reality for parents. And there are programs, right? There are different apps and things out there supposedly are supposed to be helping our kids to read to get excited about reading. And it's done through these different types of screens. So for you, I guess, both professionally and as a dad, what are your concerns there with screen time,

Drew Vernon 13:23
I think professionally as I, I mainly see the fallout from too much screen time. I think even since the COVID pandemic, from three years ago, the world has changed. I talked to a lot of educators, I talked to a lot of parents across the country. And what I'm seeing more and more is that there's an increase in social anxiety, there's an increase in attention deficit disorder. And I think a lot of it comes with the correlation of the increased screen time. So I've seen a couple of different sources saying that children in particular age two to five are watching screens anywhere between 25 and 50%. More than they were pre-pandemic. So that means that, you know, when the world shut down, we all went to screens, the schools were shut down, we all started working from home, where we're through that period, but our bad habits have remained. And I think we're just beginning to see the negative effects of that. That's on the professional side. On the personal side, I see it as a parent myself, I put my children in front of a screen to get some work done or to get some peace and quiet, the longer they watch, the worse their behavior gets. And the harder it becomes to remove them from that screen without having some sort of tantrum or angriness. So I see it both both sides and and that's in part what fuels my passion for providing other tools and methods for engaging and entertaining kids.

Sunny Gault 14:48
You know, that's so true. So many times, especially if my kids have been on the computer a little bit longer than I would like like an alarm didn't go off or I didn't hear the alarm or whatever happened. It's like it's hard to get them And then they're mean, you know what I mean? So I totally get what you're saying there. By the way, that was a beautiful segue into my next question, which is alternatives to doing screens and apps and things like that. So Drew, you're with a company called Tonies. Tell us what Tonies is all about.

Drew Vernon 15:16
Yeah. So Tonies is a relatively new company actually started over in Germany in 2016. It was founded by a couple of dads who met on the board of their children's preschool. And they noticed that the teacher was still using a CD player to play songs and stories. And they thought, you know, CDs are pretty old technology at this point, they scratch and they break, and young kids can't really operate them independently. So that's the inspiration of the toniebox, which is a five inch cube. It's like a speaker cube that plays songs and stories and any type of audio content by placing a Tonie figure on top. So it's designed so that a child can do it on their own, even at a young age, it's tactile, and they can put it on top of the Tony box to begin to play the content. And the other great thing about it, which I would argue is it wasn't fully understood until after COVID was they made this without a screen. So all of the navigation, all the interaction is done without having the visual stimulus to stare at.

Sunny Gault 16:15
So how is that better? All of us whether it's a parent that's watching something on TV, sometimes we get in this like TV mode, we're just kind of staring into nothingness is that the concern here? Like if you audibly hear something is that like, oh, their imagination, you know, they get to explore things is that where we're going with that being better than more of a screen interface?

Drew Vernon 16:38
I wouldn't even necessarily call it better, I would call it different. And I think there's a time and a place for screens. And there's a lot of great educational content. You know, I enjoy watching TV from time to time I watch movies. What's different about this, especially for a child at a young age, is when you give them the screen, you give them the actual interpretation or the actual representation of whatever you're giving them. When you remove that. You engage them as part of the creative experience. Because if they're listening to a story, for example, they actually have that creative responsibility to have to imagine what's going on. And so it's like a creative muscle that they will start to build by isolating that sense they're trained on.

Sunny Gault 17:21
Okay, and are they just listening? Or is there any interactivity with the stories as well?

Drew Vernon 17:27
We offer all sorts of different audio content. So it might be a story like a fairy tale, it might be mindfulness, exercise, breathing, or meditation, it could be like Action Songs, or kind of like a call and response like Blue's Clues or something. So depending on the type of content, it is interactive, and the navigation, as I mentioned, is all tactile. So having to actually manipulate the figure, put it on the box, you know, pinch the ears for the volume. And then you can actually navigate the tracks by, you know, tapping the sides of the box as well. So it's a fun multisensory tool.

Sunny Gault 18:05
That is awesome. And I know we have some of our moms that are on the call today, they have some experience with it. So thank you for the overview. Drew, we're gonna take a quick break. When we come back, we're gonna bring our moms back into the conversation, and continue to talk about our toddlers and how to encourage them and their love for reading. We'll be right back.

Sunny Gault 18:29
Welcome back, we are continuing our discussion about toddlers and reading. And we're doing this with our expert Drew Vernon. And we also have some amazing moms and even some teachers that are joining us today. So I think this is going to be a great conversation for everybody. So Drew and our moms now in the first half, you know, we talked about the importance of reading to our kids it with everyone on this call, this is something that you did in your own home. And I know everyone kind of has their different ways that they did it and things that worked for them. So I really want to dive into that just to give our audience an idea of things that they can do to get their kids excited about reading. So who would like to start and kind of share some of the routines and things that you did in your house? Whoever wants to start can go ahead.

Amber Barham 19:12
Yeah, absolutely. Like for us in our house. I think finding the book topics that were interesting to the children is something that really helped us as they kind of started to develop their own little personalities and figure out like characters that they really like that really helped us narrow down books that they would be more drawn to and that has really helped us to we are a Toniebox household. We love our Tonies they go everywhere with us. And so the Tonie is very music-based, there's a lot of sound effects. And that has been a big like icebreaker for us in our house and has really made a difference for our kids and they enjoy that and they love having that addition instead of just me reading the words to them all the time.

Sunny Gault 19:56
So I'm totally dating myself with this comment I'm about to make. But growing up guys, obviously we didn't have tonieboxes, but it does anyone remember Teddy Ruxpin?

Christine Stewart-Fitzgerald 20:05
Oh, yes.

Sunny Gault 20:08
Yes. I was so excited when I got a Teddy Ruxpin. But he had stories, right? And you could read along with him and his mouth and his eyes would move. And I'm sure Disney had their own version of all this stuff. But as we're talking, that's when I'm thinking like, it's like the best version of Teddy Ruxpin. You could ever have.

Christine Stewart-Fitzgerald 20:27
That's funny.

Sunny Gault 20:27
Now there was someone I can't remember Amber, was it you? It was before we started recording, but as a teacher that uses the tonieboxes in their classrooms.

Amber Barham 20:35
Yes. So my school, I just brought a Tonie library into my school, I also serve as an instructional coach for my building. So it's my job to help bring some new things into the classroom and help teachers with that. And so we have a Tonie library setup. It'll be fully launched for this school year, we kind of played around with it a little bit at the end of last school year, where teachers can actually come and kind of like a library, you check out a Tonie box and a few Tonie figures in order to use them in your classroom. And they can use them however they want. We do have you know some of the more like science based from National Geographic that some of our science teachers absolutely love. But then we have all of you know, Pete the Cat and Paw Patrol for our younger teachers who love to put it in their reading time for like library kids can listen to it, it was really accepted. Well in the school at the end of last year.

Sunny Gault 21:30
That is so cool. Christine, and Heather, I wanted to get your take on since you guys are twin parents, sometimes it can be a little tricky, you know, teaching twins how to read and you know, mommy's time is kind of split, or maybe you do the readings at the same time. Do you guys have any tips as specifically parents of twins, that has helped you guys, but that whole process?

Christine Stewart-Fitzgerald 21:49
Selfishly, as a mom of twin babies, I wanted to get out of the house. And there just so happened to be a really great baby, you know, reading program at the library. And it was with songs and with you know, using hand motions, and just a small group. And it was great for me to be able to, you know, have some social sanity time with other moms. And that became our, you know, regular weekly thing that we would go to, and then there was these other things that were very experiential, and the books were part of that. And so I think that since they were babies, the girls were going to these interactive things, where the books are there. And I think slowly over time, the books have played a much larger role that like, Oh, this is this is where we're getting our songs from, oh, this is into this, like the kind of the curiosity builds on it. And the as the Independence builds, so I've been thankful that they've been kind of just taking it to the next level, from the library into their own, there have been a lot of just really fun things. Like I think that the music has been a big element too,

Heather Schalk 22:56
With busy twins and having so much going on... it really helped for me to have a routine. So we have a morning routine. After the boys have breakfast, I read them a good morning story. And we also go, you know, to the library to get books, maybe like once a month or so. But you know, I read them the story. And then they have independent reading time where they get to flip through the book, but I clean up. And then we don't just do that in the morning. But we do that we read a story before naptime. And then we read stories before bedtime. So we really embed that in three times a day, because with so much going on in two toddlers at the same time. Yeah, this really helps us stick to getting the reading in but it's really nice, because it also adds a structure to the day. And they really look forward to that.

Christine Stewart-Fitzgerald 23:50
Yeah. And I was gonna say, you know, I think it's, you know, very similarly, we use reading as sort of, it's kind of like a relaxing time. I mean, our regular reading was part of the schedule, certainly for bedtime, you know, we always had the sort of the family bedtime. And I mean, it's I have to just fact, I was talking to my girls today. And we were talking about some of their favorite books that you know, we'd have like, you know, Chicka chicka, boom, boom, I mean, yes, I know that one. And it just, it just instills those memories, but it but it was also just associated with relaxation. And so I would say that as the schedule changed, and they went from having, you know, say two naps a day to maybe one nap a day. And they were just starting to understand that okay, maybe they don't have to sleep but it's just sort of a quiet, relaxing time we'd make sure that they'd have you know, books in their room. They could also learn to self manage and entertain themselves. So I think it was a really great tool in that regard just to helping me have you know, the the time and kind of keep schedule and helping them transition.

Sunny Gault 25:00
Well, yeah, for sure. Well, Christine, you gave me an idea. And I know we need to wrap up on time here because we've been talking for a while. But as we kind of wrap up today's episode I would love for the moms and Drew as a dad, you who are the token representative dads today. I would love for you guys to mention some stories, whether it's through the toniebox or you know, just books that you guys have whatever is worth, because I know one of the things is when you're trying to get your kids excited about reading, you have to have stories that really interest them, so feel free to shout them out. But I would love to kind of wrap this up on a note of give us your your best stories or characters or whatever that seemed to really work well for you guys.

Drew Vernon 25:38
I'm a big fan of Dr. Seuss. I love all the Dr. Seuss ones. Also Roald Dahl, I'm a big fan of like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Those have been a big hit for my family.

Heather Schalk 25:49
My children especially love the farm. So one of our favorite Good morning books is good morning farm friends. And I also really recommend 10 little night stars for bedtime. And if your kids are into sensory like touching books with sensory I recommend the see touch field books.

Sunny Gault 26:10
Well, I don't know about kids, but I love those feely books are my favorite. I did want to get rid of them when my kids got older. I'm like, can you just keep the one with the bunny ears, please? It's so much fun. Well, thank you guys. You guys are awesome. You guys had such good input today. I'm sure audience absolutely loved it. So I do appreciate your time. And Drew, Thank you so much for being with us and being part of Tonies if you guys want more information about Tonies and some of the links and stuff we talked about in today's episode, you can visit our website, and go to the episode page for all that great info.

Sunny Gault 26:52
That wraps up our show for today. We appreciate you listening to Parents Savers. I hope you guys had a lot of fun on today's show. I know I did. Don't forget to check out our sister shows. We have Preggie Pals for expecting parents, The Boob Group for moms who breastfeed their babies, Twin Talks for parents of multiples, and Newbies, for those going through this whole parenting and motherhood thing for the first time and it kind of covers the first year of life for you and your baby. But this is Parents Savers: Empowering New Parents!

Disclaimer 27:21
This has been a New Mommy Media production. Information and material contained in this episode are presented for educational purposes only. Statements and opinions expressed in this episode are not necessarily those of New Mommy Media and should not be considered facts. While such information and materials are believed to be accurate. It is not intended to replace or substitute for professional medical advice or care and should not be used for diagnosing or treating health care problem or disease or prescribing any medication. If you have questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health, or the household of your baby, please seek assistance from a qualified healthcare provider.

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