Boost your toddler’s brain power in 3, 10 or 15 minutes with books

Get ready for a shock that may shake you to your parenting core: I despise Dr. Seuss books.

They grate on my nerves so much, I’ve hidden them behind stacks of board books on the shelf, “misplaced” them under couch cushions and, if forced by a super-cute whining child, pretended there is only one sentence on every page (rhyming? Dr. Seuss rhymes?).

As much of a Seuss fan as you might be (bless your heart), I bet we can all agree that each of us has a kiddie book or three we never want to open again. I imagine nearly all of our children have at least one favorite picture book that takes unbearably long to read. We have all certainly listed kinds of farm animals, dinosaurs or clothing items a gazillion times in our baby’s short lives. And I will bet that most of you have a kid who cannot get enough of a licensed-character book Grandma bought at a garage sale for a quarter. Book time can definitely be a bear.

But books really, really matter

Science is really quite clear about the many reasons we should be reading to our toddlers every single night (or day or nap time), whether princess-fairy-unicorn adventure tale or the one about all the crayons who go missing. The discipline helps our toddlers build:

  • phonemic awareness, or how small sounds combine to form words
  • vocabulary, as well as number and letter awareness
  • imagination in crafting and retelling stories
  • a foundation for future reading independence, as children who are read to are more likely to read on their own when they are older
  • a nurturing relationship between child and caregiver

Of course, outside of your own personal feelings about a certain bedtime read, there are bedtime schedules and multiple trips to the potty. And lullabies. And the inevitable string of unanswerable small-child questions. All of these things can interrupt the big benefits of spending a few quiet moments reading aloud with your little one.

Here’s how to get past the Seuss disdain

Remind yourself that those few minutes pack a big punch in boosting your child’s brain power—a boost well worth your effort.

It takes just three little minutes to read Oh, the Places You’ll Go (yes, I tested it). While kids are in the picture book stage, I bet most can be rattled off—even with animated voices—in that amount of time or less. You get a pretty major parenting ROI on those few minutes.

And if you are up for more, then think how much good you are doing for your toddler’s growing brain if you spend ten minutes on three books! If she chooses one book, you choose another and then you pick the last one together, you’ve also started practicing social skills of sharing and compromise.

Power up reading time even more

Expand your child’s mind and logic and reasoning skills with book-club inspired questions. One strategy academics call Text Talk involves asking the child open-ended questions about the story after you’ve read it aloud. This approach guides children to construct meaning, with the goal of growing their comprehension skills and language development. This is a highly studied and carefully developed literacy strategy, and parents can incorporate pieces of it daily. Asking your child a few questions about each book will show him that your family loves to discuss literature, will give him an opportunity to think and react to what you’ve just read, and—who knows?—may even make you love the text once you’ve heard what he sees and hears on each page.

See what you did in 3, 5 or 15 minutes?

With these tactics, you can give your child a daily assist toward being a fluent and happy reader, engaged and successful in school, and communicative at home. You can add more words into their rapidly growing mental vocabulary list. You can help them learn about big concepts that may not otherwise come into your home or family life. You can share really great (and, okay, a few mediocre) stories with them.

If all those reminders about the brain power and milestones and insights don’t make you hate Dr. Seuss any less, maybe the cute, cuddly kid on your lap will. One day those toddlers will grow up to slink off to the bouncy chair in their room to read sci-fi and Mad magazine and weird graphic romance novels and all kinds of stuff you’ll never know about, and that few minutes poring over the encyclopedia of trucks will seem pretty great.

P.S. Rhyming is not only fun, it is great for powering up your little one’s brain! It helps develop the ability to break down words, learn spoken and written language rhythms, and spell. Whether you rely on Dr. Seuss to guide you through or it is silly songs you choose, tack on some rhymes before bedtime! 

About the author



Jessica Ashley wears inappropriately high heels to the playground. A content strategist and creator, Jessica is the founder and voice of Single Mom Nation and the podcast Single Mom Nation Radio. She is the mother of a one-boy-band, Tae Kwon Do-ing tween and a feisty toddler known as Boss Lady.