Reading to your child even before they can speak is a crucial part of helping your child develop language skills. Some parents believe that it’s enough to lay their child down for a nap or for bedtime and simply read to them from a few feet away. However, while your child might enjoy the sound of your voice, this type of reading may not be helping them gain any type of reading skill.

What toddlers learn during reading time is not only how to track the story, but how to “do” reading. You may not be aware of all the steps that go into reading besides actually reading words on a page. Children don’t usually learn how to read more than a few words until pre-school or kindergarten. What they do learn before that however, is how to sit and hold a book, flip the pages in the correct direction, track the words with their finger, and associate the story with the pictures.

These are the skills your toddler will learn when you read to them properly. In order to begin teaching these skills, find a book your child is interested in. Your toddler will probably resist these lessons unless they’re reading something that they like. Once you’ve done this, sit with your child so that they can see the pictures and just read to them. Follow the words with your finger while you read and point out how the pictures illustrate the words.

Children love repetition, so they’ll probably ask you to read the same book again and again. Don’t resist this or ask them if they want to read another book. After a while, ask your child to read the book to you. Obviously they can’t read yet, but chances are they won’t say no because if they’re reading that same book you’ve read to them over and over, they will have it memorized better than you think.

As you read to them, your child will have noticed the way you hold the book and turn the pages. As they begin to read, you will notice that sometimes they seem like they’re actually reading the words, when they’re just reciting from memory. This is good thing however, because they’re demonstrating all the motions of reading and when they do start reading for real, they will not have to learn all the motions along with actually decoding and comprehending the sentences. If your child forgets a part of the story while reading to you, ask them to look at the pictures and see if they can figure out which part they’re at.

Repeat this process with as many books as your child wants to read, and read to them often to remind them of how to handle books. Reading to your child is a great bonding experience and most children who have had adults in their life read to them remember the experiences fondly and have more positive associations with reading in general.