There are lots of fun ways to help your little one learn to love books and stories. And, surprisingly, not all of them involve sitting down with an actual book.
Use books to bond
It's not all about reading the words. At this age it's more about enjoying the interaction with Mum or Dad. When your child sits in your lap as you read aloud, she doesn't just enjoy books, she also enjoys the security of your undivided attention.
Set up a ritual
A regular reading time establishes a calming routine young children love -- that's why the bedtime story is a time-honoured tradition. But don't forget that many other daily events also provide good reading opportunities. Once in a while try establishing a new ritual with a breakfast story, a bathtime story, a just-home-from-nursery story or even an "on the potty" story. Some toddlers (and older children) who are heavy sleepers are much better able to face the day when their parents "read them awake" rather than hustle them out of bed.
Choose appropriate books
Toddlers love board books, bath books and pop-up books -- any type they can hold easily and manipulate themselves. They love stories accompanied by bright, clear realistic pictures. And, of course, they love rhymes. That's not to say your two-year-old won't appreciate the stories her big brother chooses -- who knows, Harry Potter may end up being her favourite book! Just make sure she has access to simpler books as well.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
Stifle your yawns if you've read The Very Hungry Caterpillar every night for the past month and your child still asks to hear it again. Repetition is a hallmark of the toddler years. The reason children love to read the same stories over and over and over again is that they're so thirsty to learn. You'll soon find that your toddler has memorised her favourite passages and is eager to supply key phrases herself -- both signs of increasing readiness to read.
Ham it up
Lose your inhibitions when you read to your child. Growl like the Papa Bear in Goldilocks, squeak like Piglet in Winnie-the-Pooh. Kids love drama as much as adults do -- in fact, your youngster may love to pretend to be the scary wolf in The Three Little Pigs. Encourage her, even if it slows the story's progress. She'll get more out of the story if she's participating actively.
Follow her interests
Choose books about her favourite activities -- visiting the zoo, swimming, playing catch. Back up her favourite videos and TV programmes with books about the characters. You may be mystified by the appeal of Teletubbies, but if your child loves the cheery little creatures, she'll love the books about their exploits as well. Follow her lead, but do experiment with a wide variety of books. Your little girl who loves dressing up and dolls may, to your surprise, also be the one who asks to hear stories about dinosaurs and monsters again and again, too.
Go to the library
Even babies like library story-hours, and they're wonderful adventures for toddlers. Your child may well discover a new favourite when it's presented by the beguiling librarian with her soothing voice and perhaps some pictures or puppets to illustrate the action. And, of course, libraries allow parents -- and toddlers -- to take home countless stories without spending a penny.
Use the spoken word
Many wonderful books exist on CD or via downloads. You can feed your child's eagerness to hear Puss in Boots for the umpteenth time, even though you need to go start dinner, by putting on a story, instead (with or without the accompanying picture book). You could also record books and stories yourself, or ask a beloved friend or relative to do so. Hearing granny's voice reading a favourite story is a special treat.
Don't make books a reward
Don't tell your child she can listen to a story if she finishes her dinner. When reading is associated with systems of reward and punishment, it isn't a positive experience. Instead, pick times to read that feel natural, such as when you want your toddler to quiet down before her nap.
Dealing with a wriggler
Some wriggly youngsters just won't sit still through all of Spot's Birthday Party. Don't worry about it. Just leaf through something short for a few minutes (or even seconds) and then let them go. The next day you can try a slightly longer session. Some children will always be more interested in running around than in reading. If your toddler is the physically active type, she may respond best to the non book-related activities described below.
Make storytelling a part of life
While you're at the dinner table or in the car, tell stories -- standards like Goldilocks and the Three Bears are fine, or anecdotes from your own childhood or stories that feature your child as a central character. Make books of your child's drawings or favourite photos, and tell stories about them -- or ask her to be the narrator.
Point out words everywhere
Wherever you go, you can show your child that words are an important part of everyday life. Even the youngest toddlers quickly learn, for example, that traffic signs say STOP. Alphabet refrigerator magnets are staples in many homes. Other families label objects around the house, such as the shelves that house BLOCKS, DOLLS, and other toys. If your child is in playgroup or nursery, slip a daily note into her lunchbox. Even if she can't yet read CAT, seeing the word printed on a piece of paper, along with a drawing or sticker of a cute kitten, will be a high point in her day and help excite her interest in reading. If this seems too ambitious, try drawing a heart or smiley face with a simple "I love you", which will help get your toddler excited about the meaning behind words.
Children from families who talk at the dinner table have larger vocabularies, according to researchers. Talk with your toddler, and don't be afraid to use complex words and phrases. Encourage her questions and explanations. Toddlers are curious and wonder endlessly about the world, so don't be shy about trying to explore her interests with her.
Demonstrate your own love of books
Your child wants to imitate you. If she sees books all around the house and knows that you like to settle down with one whenever you have a moment to yourself, she'll learn that books are essential to daily life. Showing her your own love of reading is more powerful than making your child sit through a rigid story time.