Books for Three Year Olds

The following is a very common question which, over the years, I have answered many times. We have reprinted it here to help others.


Do you have any book recommendations for three year olds? And what are the types of qualities I should be looking for in books for three year olds? My daughter is turning three next month. Perhaps we are reading to her more than is ideal, but we have cut way back on books since learning about Waldorf. We used to read 10 – 20 different books to her a day, which seems so ludicrous now!

Right now, it is working really well for our rhythm to read some Mother Goose or other short rhymes and songs at nap time. We keep a rhyming board book or two by the potty. And for bedtime, my husband reads a book to her while she has warm milk. Then he gets her ready for bed (brushing teeth and jammies), and then she joins me in the rocker for a longer story type picture book. This longer book really helps to calm her down and start to get sleepy. Then I lay down with her and tell her a story and sing lullabies until she falls asleep.

For the naptime, potty, and my bedtime book and story, we keep using the same books and story for weeks or even a month or more at a time. For my husband, it’s a bit harder for him to keep reading the same thing over and over, but he is happy (and she is happy) with a selection of about 8 books that they’ve been rotating through for six months.

I’m pleased with most of the books I’ve chosen for her, such as “Wait Until the Moon is Full”, a few “Little Bear” books, and “Little Raccoon Catches a Cold”. And I think most of the books she reads with my husband are fine, like “Froggy Gets Dressed”, “Rabbit’s Gift” and “Never Tease a Weasel”. But there are other books in our collection that I’m not so comfortable with, because they contain concepts that I think are too old for her, but I’m not sure what to replace them with, or what exactly to look for. In your wonderful pre-K and K resources, and those written by others, I’ve found great suggestions for 4 and 5 year olds, but not so much for 3 year olds. That’s probably because books shouldn’t be such a focus for three year olds, but any suggestions or advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.


Donna’s Response:

I think you know what I’m going to say….you’ve said it yourself…..”books shouldn’t be a focus for 3 year olds”! There you go! :-)OK – so I guess you want/need a bit more than that….but I am going to come back to the same home truth – when it comes to young children the old adage Less is More is never more true. Please take a big red felt tip pen and write that in huge letters and put in on your fridge – LESS IS MORE! (Not yelling, emphasizing! )

So what I’m going to say here is that you already have books – so stick to those. Read them over and over and over and over and over and over again to your daughter – you will know that you’ve got it right when you want to scream and pull your hair out at the mere mention of the book (and I really do mean say no more than 5 or 6 books – stick with those for a couple of months. Then phase in one or two more).

Why is this necessary? Because one is unwittingly creating a perfect situation for a dissatisfied more, more, more child when one has so much STUFF – whether toys or books or outings or changes in schedules and so on). A young child who cannot sit and play contentedly for a half an hour (or more) with a simple card board box and maybe a wooden block or two is really missing out on a deep inner contentedness which is the hallmark of early childhood – but which is so rarely seen these days. Most (though certainly not all) restlessness, dissatisfaction and what might be termed ADHD-type behaviours in young children are created – and that is the hard truth. I do not blame parents – I blame our weird out-of-whack seriously-got-its-priorities-wrong society for this. That and the fact that paediatricians and child psychiatrists can get their degrees without having spent time with normal healthy children. So what they are familiar with is abnormality – which then becomes the norm because those same doctors have a badly misplaced idea of what a child is and what a child can/should do. This then filters down to poor parents via parenting magazines, popular culture and what passes for education in our culture.

Have a listen to our free audio download on Therapeutic Waldorf for more on this – this talk is not just for parents with children who have challenges – I think everyone could benefit from the ideas and solutions given in this free audio download.

And what a 3 year old child can/should do is be very satisfied with not very much – with the same songs sung over and over and over (ok – you get the idea) again. With one or two simple very boring (from our point of view) stories told repeatedly.

And that last point is crucial – from our adult point of view, a 3 year old’s life SHOULD be boring. Not much happens. Every day is pretty much the same.Consider this from a different angle – a little child is doing so much growth and is so new to the world – what we old jaded adults think is run-of-the-mill is utterly new and exciting to a little one.

Those of you who have Nature Stories to Natural Science might recall a little story I shared in there of a father I observed on a fossil dig with his couldn’t-have-been-more-than 5 year old son. Dad wanted to show the little fellow all the flakes of shark tooth he found – isn’t this exciting? Of course it was exciting to the little guy – but no more exciting than the empty soda tin or the yellow flower or the pigeon cooing as it walked along the sidewalk! Life – everyday life – is a complete adventure for a little one. Let’s not spoil that with our adult agendas of what Having a Good Time looks like!

Here’s a book you should get – Teddy Robinson. Teddy Robinson was written in the late 50’s or early 60’s in the UK and the main character is the Teddy of a little girl – who stays at home with her mother and doesn’t do very much of anything. Big adventures? The milkman visits. The grocery man delivers the groceries and there is a cardboard box to play with. The teddies and dollies have “tea” (it is a British book!) in the garden. And so on.

OK – sorry about this rant but actually Chris this is REALLY important. This is your opportunity to slow things down in your child’s life – REALLY SLOW THINGS DOWN – and set the stage for a happy contented child who does not tear through life always seeking diversion. And where is that diversion? Outside of oneself.

One of the secrets of being a contented human being surely has to do with being able to find peace in everyday communion with one’s self. This is not possible if one is always looking outside for diversion – we call it addiction when it gets bad. Shopping, gambling, drugs, eating, sex, smoking, computers, facebook – there are so many things which can so easily and rapidly turn into addictions because of the more, more, more way that most children are raised in this society and because of the consumerist and materialistic priorities of our culture. Even books can become part of this when they are read and tossed aside, one after another, with no time for reflection (for older children and adults) or for the joy of repetition for little ones.

Not enough time is devoted to just allowing children to BE – to day dream, to rest, to explore – without adult agendas and without constant outside determinants of whether something is worthwhile or not. Goals and end results can be fine in many situations in life – but not when it comes to young children and their day to day existence. A child needs to experience boredom – so he can look within to find what he needs. Having said that, a young child should never know the meaning of that word – she should be so at one with the world and in such a flow with what happens around her that to be bored (which implies separation) cannot happen.

Furthermore, by working with those two golden pillars of early childhood – repetition and imitation – one is actually strengthening the physical chalice into which the soul of this new human being comes to live. If a person is not comfortable being in his body – in his Temple, his chalice – then he can find no peace. And usually, he looks outside himself for diversion or perhaps help….and the cycle continues, unbroken. He must learn to look within so that he can then turn and look without with meaning.

Repetition – the same activities, the same breathing in and breathing out in day to day , week to week, seasonal rhythms, is what builds, nourishes and sustains the growing human body. By working on the etheric body which carries, as it were, the life rhythms of the human being, the physical body is thereby enhanced and the necessary growth that needs to happen is allowed to unfold.

By giving a child that which is worthy of imitation one works with the template, as it were, of the evolving human being – one does not discuss and thereby engage the intellectual faculties which forces the child into premature I awareness. Instead, one does what one needs to do in the best way possible – and sets things up so that the child can join in and imitate – or soak up what is happening via her body, via play. And that is key – that the body is utilized. Early childhood is the time in life when the physical body needs to be strengthened so as to be able to support the later intellectual demands of being a human being – and in early childhood this occurs when life is, as much as possible, about healthy repetitive movement and imitation. Not passively watching a screen – but actively playing with sensible open-ended toys and engaging in work (baking, sweeping, chopping etc).

Precocious self awareness (more, more, more, me, me, me) immediately thrusts a child’s growth away from a focus on the etheric body. The child becomes aware of herself and energy (to use a not very accurate word) is devoted prematurely to the growth of the I instead of the growth of the physical body. The problem here is that the physical body is not ready yet to fully and in a healthy way accept the I and problems (which are usually described in the ADHD spectrum – or at least in restless behaviour) result.

OK – poor you, Chris – all you wanted were the names of some books and look what you got! Ah well. But seriously – you have books. You don’t need new ones. Dig ’em out and re-read ’em. If your child protests (which she shouldn’t do if you play your cards right – ie let no hesitation or ‘is this ok’ creep in) then put the books away and take out those same books (with delight “look what Mama found on the top shelf – our old favourite!) a day later.

Posted on September 16, 2013 in Kindergarten (and pre-K)

  • Nicole says:

    I know this is an old post, but I just read it and I wanted to comment on it. My little one is about to turn 6, so I am having to think back a bit. She’s in Kindergarten and doing wonderfully, but her one and two and three years were hard. Mommy and daddy got divorced and she started having to transition between two homes before she turned two. She was having daily tantrums, melt-downs, hitting other children, and was generally a very unhappy one year old. What helped the most with this was rhythm and repetition.

    I ended up reading the same book to her twice a day, every day, for almost two years. When it’s been a tough day, we still will read that book before bed. Yup, you heard me. Same book and we still read it. It was a nursery rhyme book that was fairly long. I read it in a sing-song voice while rocking her before nap time and before bed-time. To say I had this book memorized is a bit of an understatement. If on the rare occasion that our schedule was off and nap-time was somewhere else, or hit while in the car, I would get her comfortable with a blanket and then I would recite the entire book to her. I would use the exact same intonations and pauses as if the book was in my hand. If I changed a pronunciation or the pitch of a syllable, she would notice. This worked beautifully, but it took me a while to figure out how important this was.

    For nap time and bedtime she got one book and two songs (if she was even still awake). The second song was always “My Favorite Things” from the Sound of Music. This was also our calm down song. When there were tears or a tantrum (yes there were tantrums, lots of tantrums, especially on the day she came back to my house and the day she was to go to her dad’s), I would rock her and sing this song. I can’t say it was magic, but it made a big difference. The other song changed every few months, but they tended to recycle themselves.

    When she was three (3 1/2 maybe), we started adding one more book to her night time routine. She seemed to need the extra time because she had started a preschool three mornings a week (not Waldorf, but outdoor, nature, art, developmentally appropriate) and sometimes needed extra time to wind down. This second book changed every few weeks or so, but usually was one of a handful of books: “Good Night Moon”, “Steam Train, Dream Train” or “Pajama Time”.

    Truthfully, I think these daily rhythms saved us both. Whenever I deviated, things got so much worse. The more rhythm we had, even to eating the same exact lunches and dinners each day of the week, the easier things got. We still have spaghetti Thursdays, and we still have a limit of two books and two songs before bed. Things have changed, but in many ways have stayed the same. I wish I had figured all of this out sooner and I would suggest not having more than double the number of books for the child’s age. So, no more than 6 books all year round for a 3 year old. Repetition and keeping things simply really is so important, especially when there are things in your child’s life that are disruptive and outside of your control.

  • Ritz says:

    Very informative post

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