Inside: As parents, we want our children to be well-rounded, happy people. But more than that, we secretly hope our children turn out to be smart too. Find out why parents are using educational books for toddlers and how to make reading fun!
This article contains affiliate links.
Luckily, research shows that raising intelligent children isn’t entirely up to chance. Early in a child’s life, parents can nurture a child’s intellect by reading with him or her daily.
In this article, you’ll find the following three sections:
- Research on the benefits of reading to young children + how many minutes a day to read to your child
- The top five educational books in each of the following categories:
- 5 Super Practical Tips for Make Reading Fun + a free printable
The Research Behind How Reading to Toddlers Makes Them Smarter
As a former first grade teacher with my Reading Specialist degree, I have learned that the toddler years are a crucial time in a child’s life. In fact, “the greatest amount of brain growth occurs between birth and age five.” 1
What Does the Research Say About Reading?
In addition to creating memories and opportunities to bond, reading to children has tons of measurable benefits as well. Research shows that reading to a child regularly will result in:
Higher Alphabet Recognition (2)
Increased Brain Activity (3, 4)
Enhanced Vocabulary (5)
Increased Academic Skills (6)
Ok, But Doesn’t Everyone Read to their Kids?
Surprisingly, the statistics on how often children are read to daily by a family member are only 53%. And those numbers drop for families with incomes below the poverty line. 2
So, How much Should We Read to Toddlers?
The short answer? It is recommended to read 20 minutes a day. That 20 minutes is so powerful for connecting with your child, helping them build their vocabulary, and modeling reading skills. In fact, children who read 20 minutes a day will hear over 1 million words per year!
The Best Educational Books For Toddlers
Let’s get to the good stuff, the books. So why bother with educational books for toddlers? Well, two reasons.
The first is because there is a direct correlation between having a variety of reading materials in the home and higher reading proficiency. 2
The second reason is to boost the developmental milestones that children experience as toddlers. For example, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention outlines developmental milestones that reflect the areas children are learning by age.
For toddlers, these concepts include shapes, colors, letters, numbers, and feelings, among others. I have scoured the literary giants for the top five educational books for toddlers in each group.
Tip: To check out any of the books listed below, simply click on the title.
Educational Books: Colors
Mix it Up: This imaginative book gives children the power to transform and mix colors in an interactive display of creativity with each turn of the page. Children explore what happens when colors are mixed, splattered, and combined in this book that is far from ordinary.
One: Each color with its own personality, this book uniquely comes to life. Not only teaching colors, but this book also offers exceptional conversation starters for embracing people who might look or feel different from us. This cleverly written book is packed with depth and yet presented in such simplicity.
The Day the Crayons Quit: This hilarious and wildly creative narrative tells the story of a box of crayons that goes on strike when all poor Duncan wants to do is color. Each color with its vendetta, this story is packed with charm.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?: A classic by the one and only Eric Carle. This simple and yet captivating story is full of bright colors, animals, and bold collages.
Mouse Paint: A beautiful introduction to primary and secondary colors. An adorable story of curious mice that experiment with mixing colors. A massive hit with little learners.
Educational Books for Toddlers: Shapes
*Color Zoo: (Caldecott Honor Book) Simple, bold and creative. Color Zoo displays animals made of basic shapes then clearly identifies those shapes. A classic example of the kind of books toddlers and babies adore.
Mouse Shapes: A playful concept book in which three mice use their imaginations to create designs using shapes to hide from a cat. An innovative story, Mouse Shapes will have you wondering what you can make from circles, triangles, and squares.
Montessori: Shape Work: A family favorite in our home, this book identifies objects and their shape that naturally occur in a child’s environment, while accurately depicting shape names. Plus, several pages are indented around the outline of the shape, adding a sensory element to this book that kids can’t resist.
Perfect Square: A lovely adventure of a square that transforms into works of art. This shape book is a beautiful combination of life lessons, bold, vivid colors, and a gorgeous example of paper collages.
*Not a Box (winner of a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award): This is a household fav because what kid can’t relate to imagining a box is something else. In this amusing story, the author weaves humor in as they relay all of the things the main character pretends the box is.
Educational Books: Letters
Alphabet: We love turning each page in this book to find a new surprise. From various textures to moving tabs and flaps, and even scratch and sniff, this book is sure to keep little hands and minds busy. Not only are there animals for every letter, but also a bonus animal and plant hide and seek section at the back of the book. Plus, ours came with a matching alphabet chart.
Montessori: Letter Work: This trace and texture book is an interactive way for kids to learn the letters and sounds of the alphabet. As in traditional Montessori style, the letters are first taught as sounds. These sounds are phonetically represented in the book, making them easy to read. We love the Montessori series!
Big Words for Little Geniuses: This unique book shares unusually large words for each letter like “dulcifluous” and “juxtaposition.” So not only does it provide letter knowledge but new vocabulary-building words too for your little genius.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom: Kids adore this quirky story of alphabet letters that climb up a coconut tree. The rhythm and repetition of this book have helped to make it a classic donning the bookshelves of many educators and homes. By far, one of the most fun ways to learn about letters.
LMNO Peas book: It’s hard to resist the cute little peas that are the stars of this concept book. This fresh alphabet book features bright colors, bouncy rhyming text, and silly pea characters who highlight the wide variety of interests, hobbies, and careers that make the world such an interesting place.
Educational Books: Numbers
Duck & Goose, 1, 2, 3: This loveable book is full of adorable illustrations of Duck and his friends. The simple counting is endearing and easy to follow for little ones. A classic in our home that we’ve read and enjoyed over and over again.
Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons: Pete the Cat is the coolest. With his laid back style and life lessons intertwined in this counting story, he counts down the buttons he loses from his shirt. With rhythm, songs, and counting, this book is the full package and so fun to read.
How Do Dinosaurs Count to Ten?: There is a whole Dinosaur series by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague that we adore. This is one of our favorite books from the set. It’s an easy counting board book with numbers that dino-lovers are sure to go gaga over.
Doggies: Sandra Boyton just gets toddlers. Her books are funny and smart and have all the right components to keep your little ones begging you to read them over and over again. In this story, children not only will enjoy counting to ten but also barking along with all sounds dogs can make.
Quack and Count: My favorite part about this book is that in addition to introducing counting the little family of ducklings, each page shows different ways of making seven. Making this book a gentle exposure to early addition concepts as well. Bonus!
Educational Books: Feelings
The Way I Feel: This book is perfect for addressing the full range of emotions that children (and adults) wrestle with. I know all too well about taming toddler tantrums. Each page gives children a relatable scenario for each emotion word. Plus, the artwork is striking.
What Am I Feeling?: I love, love, love this book because it gave me the outline for helping my children work through difficult emotions. The main idea behind this story is that it’s ok to feel emotions, but they are not in charge of you. Not only did this help us tackle difficult emotions, but it also enabled us name them because it comes with a “What I feel” poster that we have hanging in our playroom.
The Unbudgeable Curmudgeon: The rhythm and rhyming in this book make it an instant hit with kids. And the lovable grumpy Curmudgeon helps kids to identify their own emotions with a bit of humor.
Baby Happy Baby Sad: We can’t get through this book without my kids ooohing and ahhing as if they are experiencing the same emotions as the main character, baby. A beautiful story of opposites, the author takes you on a witty journey of oh-so-relatable events in a baby’s life that make the baby happy or sad.
In My Heart: A Book of Feelings: With a full gamut of emotions in this book, I love how the author describes how each one feels physically. And the irresistible die-cut heart guides the child through the story. “The Growing Hearts series celebrates the milestones of a toddler’s emotional development, from conquering fears and expressing feelings to welcoming a new sibling.”
5 Ways to Make Reading Fun
There are so many ways to make reading fun. This topic is something I’m passionate about, which is why this is not the first time I’ve written about how to make reading fun.
Below, I have put together five practical suggestions for helping your little one enjoy reading.
1. Use What You Have
We have camping chairs for the kids that we only use two to three times a year, so I thought I’d put them to better use and use them as part of our reading nook. What items do you already have in your home that could be used to make reading fun?
2. Make it Cozy and Inviting
Children love secluded spaces that are intentional. For one of our reading nooks, we used a tent, blanket, and pillows to make a unique reading space. Then, I add a basket of books.
3. Themed Book Baskets
I like to feature books in our playroom and switch them every few weeks.
Sometimes, I will select texts by author, season, or topic. You could also use the categories above like shapes, colors, alphabet, etcetera to sort book baskets.
Using themed book baskets is a strategy teachers often use in the classroom. It helps kids to notice books that they haven’t looked at in a while.
4. Display Books
Pick out books to feature to grab children’s attention by setting them out in places where the child plays. Switch the featured books every few weeks.
5. Build Up Your Library
To quickly build your book collection on a budget, you can look at your local library to see when they have book sales. Or, shop on Facebook Marketplace, thrift books, or thrift stores. Then, I sprinkle in my favorite books (that I typically buy from Amazon), because people usually hold onto the favorites.
Download my FREE cheat sheet (pictured above) as a bonus for joining my newsletter:
5 Ways to Make Reading Fun
What are your favorite educational books for toddlers? Share in a comment below!
Before You Go…
Can I ask you a favor? If you enjoyed this article, will you share it on your favorite social media or even text it to a friend? This helps share the message with others about how to connect and bond with their kids.
Sources and References for the Best Educational Books for Toddlers
- Ferst Readers. Fifty Top Literacy Statistics.
- National Education Association. Facts about Children’s Literacy.
- AAP News. MRI shows association between reading to young children and brain activity. April 25, 2015
- CNN. This is your child’s brain on reading.
- EdSource. Study says reading aloud to children, more than talking, builds literacy. July 8, 2015.
- National Center for Education Statistics. Home Literacy Activities with Young Children. May, 2018.
- WCPO. How reading 20 minutes a day impacts your child. February 14, 2017.