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Reading Aloud to Kids Who Can’t Sit Still

Do your children have a hard time sitting still during read-alouds? Many kids do. They can sit still for two minutes, and then—ZOOM!—they are off. There are so many interesting things to do at any given time. There are block towers to construct, cool insects to check out, computer games to play, and physical feats to perform. Sometimes all at once! Life is great!

Good listening comprehension spills over into good reading comprehension, so you definitely want to figure out how to make read-aloud time doable for you and your child.

Reading Aloud to Kids Who Can't Sit Still - All About Reading

Reading Aloud with Active Children

Reading aloud for twenty minutes a day is important. In fact, read-aloud time is so important that it is built right into the All About Reading program, with a prompt in every lesson to remind you.

10 Tips for Reading Aloud to Kids Who Can’t Sit Still

Here are 10 ideas to try if you have an active child.

  1. Read after physical activity. Make sure that he gets plenty of physical activity—riding a bike, playing tag, rolling down hills, climbing the jungle gym—kids are designed to MOVE, so take care of that need before expecting them to sit still for a book.
  2. Consider the timing of your read-alouds. Some children have an extra dose of energy right after breakfast, so this wouldn’t be the ideal time to ask them to focus on a storybook. Midafternoon or bedtime may be a better choice.
  3. Keep your children engaged with interactive books. Let them lift the flaps, pull the tabs, count the cats. Here’s a list of some really good interactive books.

  4. Read during lunch or snack time.
  5. Reading Aloud to Kids Who Can't Sit Still - All About Reading

  6. Listen to audio books in the car.

  7. Read to your child while he’s in the bathtub.

  8. Try reading books that appeal to your child’s unique interests.

  9. Let your child sit on a Move-N-Sit cushion.
  10. Eliminate avoidable distractions such as cell phones, the television, or computer games being played in the background.
  11. Set a timer for read-alouds. This way your child knows that there will be a definite end to the sitting-down-and-listening part of his day. He knows that the timer will go off, reminding you that book time is over and he can propel off like a rocket to his next adventure.

One Final (Slightly Controversial) Tip

I didn’t believe this tip until I worked with some serious wigglers myself.

Some children need to be actively doing something with their hands in order to concentrate.

This can be as simple as holding a toy car and spinning the wheels or as involved as building a jigsaw puzzle or coloring with crayons.

Some children are so overwhelmed by the act of sitting quietly and concentrating that they simply cannot stay still, making it nearly impossible for them to listen.

mom reading aloud to girl

But when a child is allowed to quietly play with something during reading time, he can expend physical energy in a nonintrusive way and focus on listening to the story. Of course, if the quiet play escalates into a full-fledged game, then attention will wander and any positive listening benefits will be lost.

Here’s the key: let the child stay engaged in a calming activity during read-aloud time and help him learn the boundaries of what constitutes a “quiet” activity (this definition can vary family to family).

Here are a few ideas for keeping hands busy:

  • Thinking Putty
  • Playdough
  • modeling wax
  • Lego® bricks
  • doodling
  • lacing cards
  • coloring
  • knitting
  • building blocks
  • beading
  • making friendship bracelets

Experiment to see what works in your household. Some children are helped by keeping their hands busy, while others are distracted by it. Some children are able to focus better in the morning, while others have a calm, receptive mind before bedtime.

Making read-aloud time work for your family may require a bit of trial and error. If read-aloud time isn’t working right now, I encourage you to try some of the ideas shared above. Don’t give up! It is critical to develop your child’s listening comprehension through read-alouds, so experiment and be open to trying new things.

Is your child a wiggler? Do you have a read-aloud tip to share?

Read-Aloud Tips Recommended by Our Readers:

  • Put a pile of clean laundry in the middle of the floor and have the kids fold while mom reads. (Recommended by Molly M. via Facebook)
  • I read aloud at the deserted park near our house, while he moves. It’s how he learns best! (Recommended by @nottheformerthings via Instagram)
  • I have my wiggler brush my hair while I read aloud to him. He sits on the couch and I sit on the floor. That way he can see over my shoulder to any pictures. His hands stay busy and he listens! (Recommended by Gina via blog comment)
  • I like to have the boys act out the stories that we are reading when they are in a super wriggly mood. Sometimes we make up hand signals they do every time they hear a certain word. (Recommended by Rachel via blog comment)
  • I put together a box of “hand fidgets” for him – things he can squish around in his hands while he’s listening but that won’t distract him from his lesson. (Recommended by Paula via blog comment)
  • When my daughter has the wiggles, she holds a toy car in her hands. Rolling the wheels with her fingers seems to help keep her listening without creating any distractions. (Recommended by Liz T. via blog comment)
  • My children all like to do handicrafts while we read…embroidery, crochet “chains”, and drawing have all been wonderful during read-aloud. (Recommended by Amara K. via blog comment)
  • Color, draw, Perler beads, Play-Doh, Rainbow Loom, and crocheting have all worked well. (Recommended by Carlyn L. via Facebook)
  • Puzzles are a favorite at our house right now. (Recommended by @ourlittleschoolhouse via Instagram)

Photo credit: Rachel Neumann and Shawna Wingert

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Leave a Reply

Lindsey M

says:

I have a wiggled and am still trying to find something that will work for us. Thanks for the tips!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Lindsey!

Ina

says:

Great suggestions! I’m slowly getting used to having my boys hang upside down from the couch while I’m reading to them. Somehow this seems to beore appealing to them than sitting straight.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Ina,
Who doesn’t love to hang upside down while listening! Under a blanket fort was another favorite place when my kids were little.

Devon

says:

Like the list of ideas of things to play with while listening to a read-aloud. I haven’t experimented enough to find out what will work, but I should try a few of these items for my wiggly 1st grade boy!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I hope you find at least a few ideas that help your boy enjoy read alouds, Devon!

Kayla Shertzer

says:

These tips are very helpful!

Lucinda Barton

says:

Great tips! We have a read aloud book on while in the car! It’s amazing how much they absorb while watching the world go by!

Lucinda Barton

says:

We have a read aloud book on while in the car! It’s amazing how much they absorb while watching the world go by!

Noralba Jimenez

says:

Thank you! So helpful

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Noralba.

Allyson

says:

This is such a great list! I’m going to try some of these with my wiggler who never joins in for story time unless it’s at bedtime, or during a meal. Audiobooks in the car are some of our favorites too!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I hope you find the ideas here helpful for your wiggler, Allyson!

Geneva

says:

Thank you for these tips. I have 2 very active boys and the oldest (8) has ADHD. Read aloud a are so hard. We do some of the tips mentioned but not al of them.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Geneva. I hope you find these helpful.

Julie

says:

I have to get beyond my own “vision” of what I want read alouds to look like at my house and accept what I consider to be “distractions.” 😬 #personalgrowth

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I understand, Julie. I found I had to set some ground rules. They have to be quiet, not only not talking but also not loud digging through Lego or anything like that. And they have to remain in one spot. Walking around is just too distracting for me while I am reading aloud.

Heather

says:

We’re always looking for new activities to do during our read aloud time!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I hope you find good activities for your read-aloud time here, Heather! But if you ever need more ideas, just ask.

Ryan

says:

Such great ideas. I have been using many of them to read aloud to my boys this year!

Tahira Abu-Bakare

says:

This was very informative. Thank you so much :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Tahira! Thank you.

Kristy Griffin

says:

I still have such a problem with this and my son is 12. If I’m reading to him he is constantly moving. It really causes issues if concentration for me and he isn’t always listening to the story. I have to focus on being calm and switch out me reading and him reading to help.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I understand, Kristy! Have you tried giving him something focused to do with his hands, so that the rest of him can be still? I found with my son that if he has something to take apart (bikes, carburetors, Nerf guns, anything with lots of parts) he can focus better and be far less distracting and distracted. And other times he puts the same things back together after cleaning it or fixing it or whatever needed doing.

Gloria Cato

says:

We always save our history and literature for snack time!

Nas

says:

My son is always with lego while I read to him. He listens to audio books too while he build something. I guess it goes both hand in hand for him.

Mimi

says:

Super helpful tips! My little has to wiggle so we read during breakfast and lunch to help. Blocks or any activity she can do without too much movement always helps!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great ideas, Mimi!

Judith Martinez

says:

I love the suggestion to allow our child to brush your hair while you read! I have some children that would love that! My 8 year old always wants to fix my hair.

Neeta

says:

Love these ideas!!! My crew loves coloring pages so I can use those to give them something to do while reading. I also just learned that I can read during snack time. Never thought about that!!!

Holly

says:

This a very interesting post for a bunch of reasons.

E. George

says:

Love some of these tips. I’m going to have to try a few!

Jessalyn

says:

These are GREAT tips! One of my wigglers loves to do Legos or Jixels while listening.

Lindsay

says:

I was an ADHD child, and being able to movie around WHILE I was listening or watching something helped me focus so much more than sitting still! This is still true as an adult, I often subconsciously engage in small repetitive movements while I’m reading or doing something that requires focus.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I completely understand, Lindsay! I take notes pretty much anytime information is given orally, as it helps me to focus and catch the information so much better. But I may or may not ever look at the notes again. It’s more about keeping my hands busy and providing me a way to see the information in the moment, both of which help me to focus so much more effectively.

Jess Payne

says:

There are so many great tips here ! I have little wiggles, so these will be helpful to try out during read aloud time !

Cassie Gladney

says:

My daughters love playing with their putty during story time :)

Amanda Dye

says:

This has a lot of great tips! I wish I would have seen this a couple of years ago!

Brenda Dillon

says:

My kids love to build with legos or draw while I read to them! Great ideas here!

Carolyn

says:

Such good ideas

Mabilia

says:

Yes! I also let my daughter draw/color/ work on her art projects when I read aloud.

Trisha

says:

This is the blog I needed!!!