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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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Gigi Griffin

says:

Thank you for the “slightly controversial” tip. I needed to hear it. It will help me be more patient and helpful to my constantly moving g-grandson. I will be sure to keep his hands constructively busy during homeschool.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Gigi. My wiggly boys have been listening to me read for years and years while they play with Lego, draw, fold towels, or even take bikes apart (they are teens now).

Dorothy

says:

my grandson who is 6,has a hard time sitting still when he is reading I’ll try your ideas

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Dorothy,
Many 6-year-olds have a hard time being still, but there is a lot of learning that can be done with movement. Let us know if any of these ideas help.

I find that voice animation and eye contact works. Involve the child in the story you are telling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great observation, Robyn! I have found the same, which is why my kids strongly prefer when I read aloud to them over listening to recorded audiobooks.

After working with 2 – year-old boys in daycare and raising 3 boys of my own, I wish I had known these spot on tips for reading to active children. It would have helped them become better readers faster.

Judy

says:

I have been tutoring my twin dyslexic grandchildren this year. Early in the year one of them and I were working on word family flashcards. Even though I know to not ask for no movement or squirming, things weren’t going so well, a lot of missed words, and trouble staying on task. At one point, I went outside to speak with my husband. She followed me and began running around and around the swimming pool. I still had the cards in my hand, so as she “flew” past, I would hold up a card and she would read it; hardly missing any. Wish I had kept count, but I do know it was very few that she missed. Yes, some people do better thinking when they are not confined by “sit down and be still”. A mind that is affected by stress or tension cannot think as clearly, and movement helps them regulate their tension level (some by small a movement, others need more).

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Judy,
Thank you for sharing your discovery of how big movement helped your granddaughter so much. It made me smile to think of her running a lap around the pool, reading a word, running a lap, reading a word, and so on! Yes, movement is very important for some learners (and not just kids, I know some adults that have to move to focus)!

You are a wise woman. I am in my 50s and still find it hard to sit still.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I don’t know about wise, Lori, just experienced. I am in my 40s and I still need to move to focus. I’m one that needs small movements, fiddling with things and such, in order to really think but I know some adults that have to pace. It has just struck me as odd that many adults can’t sit still, but we expect children to do it.

Ellen C

says:

I had back-to-back jobs where I was allowed to wear headphones. I wore them CONSTANTLY. I found that audio books or talk radio/podcasts were NO GOOD when I was performing what I called “language tasks.” If I was reading or writing e-mails, memos, etc., I couldn’t focus on the audio book or talk radio/podcast topic. I kept rewinding and rewinding and rewinding. But if I was just entering junk into a spreadsheet, doing mailouts or filing, I could really focus on the WORDS in my headphones because there was no language IN my brain, if that makes sense.

So, I use this rule now for readalouds with my kids. They can do ANYTHING as long as they’re quiet and still, AND as long as the activity has no language. So, coloring, puzzles, legos, stickers, cutouts, hidden picture books, etc. are all OK. On the NO list are reading other books (yes, they’ve asked), writing, search-a-words, etc. It seems to be working out pretty well. Can’t wait til they’re a little older and can start some embroidery – hoping they’ll be doing that during readaloud time soon!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Ellen,
I completely agree with your rule! My kids have also tried to read another book or a magazine while I’m reading aloud, and I don’t allow that. However, since they are older they have done all sorts of tasks including: taking bikes or scooters apart, putting bikes and scooters back together, knitting and cross-stitching, cleaning out and organizing drawers or cupboards, folding laundry, all sorts of arts and crafts, Lego building, and much more. Sometimes I even take a chair to the hallway and read aloud between the doors to their rooms so they can clean their rooms while I read aloud.

Mehgan

says:

Thank you so much for this post! I’m a mom to 3 very wiggly boys. Lately I’ve started letting them do something quietly while I read to them, like playing with cars or Legos. I used to think that if they were playing that they wouldn’t be listening, but in fact they listened SO much better when they were allowed to do something else while listening. Thank you for the reassurance that it’s okay to do this!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Mehgan,
You are welcome! We are taught that a “good listener” sits still, with their hands folded, looking at the speaker. However, many people (and I am among them) have trouble listening well while struggling to be still. It’s easier for many to focus if they have something for their hands to do and they can look away from the speaker. My kids love read aloud time because they can paint, draw, color, play with Lego, whittle, sew, tie knots, and so much more while I do it. They simply must stay in the room with me and be quiet.

Decia Newby

says:

I have a couple little wigglers. I’ll have to try some of these. Thank you!

Angie

says:

These are wonderful tips! Thank you!

arianne

says:

These ideas are great! I would’ve never thought of allowing my child to do something else while reading. I always thought that was being rude or not listening. My child, however, needs to be allowed to get her energy out somehow and learns best while her hands are occupied. I continue to learn new ways to help her learn everyday. These posts are an encouragement and help ME to think a little outside the box…which isn’t always easy for me:P

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Arianne,
I’m glad this article has helped you learn to help your child better. In my experience, most people listen better if they can move their hands.

Tara

says:

I’ve actually ran into some of these suggestions, before. My older daughter, who we’re pretty sure has at least a reading disability, absolutely hates to sit still during story time. She loves to move around or draw. Such a contrast to my younger daughter, who just wants to cuddle up next to me and have my arm around her during story time. My son was pretty much like my older daughter, minus the reading complications. It really helped with both of my older children to just let them get up and play or whatever. They got a lot more out of storytime that way.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Tara,
Personally, I would have more trouble reading aloud to the cuddler. I find it distracting to be touched while I’m trying to do something. “Normal” for us is all the movement and doing things during read alouds.

Angel

says:

My kids have always listened best when they are doing something else. Thinking putty, Legos and drawing are facorite reading time activities.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

These are some of my kids’ favorite read aloud time activities too. Thank you for sharing, Angel.

Sarah L.

says:

It is such a comfort to read about letting kids move and do during read aloud time. I am an avid reader who can sit still for hours on end caught up in my fantasy land…my 4 year old, not so much, lol. I wanted to start introducing chapter books and it wasn’t til I started letting him ‘do’ during the time that he really started enjoying it.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Sarah,
The “doing” makes a big difference for a lot of kids! I glad you found comfort in this blog post.

Jennifer Casey

says:

Yes! I tried to explain to my husband that my wigglers listen so much better when they are doing handwriting worksheets or coloring, nothing that requires intense concentration, but enough to keep their hands occupied so they can sit still longer.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Jennifer,
Some people have the concept that you cannot listen without sitting still so ingrained that they have trouble imagining anything else. I’ve even seen books and posters aimed at kids suggesting that in order to be a good listener they have to sit very still with their hands in their laps and their eyes on the speaker. Sigh.

Melissa Ford

says:

This post takes the pressure out of making chapter book reading a chore. I have some that sit and listen, some that color or play with matchbox cars while I read and it is nice to know they are taking it in! We like to read during lunch some times too!

Amanda

says:

Thank you for the tips! I will be trying them with my little wiggler.

Christine

says:

Great tips!

Cindy

says:

My daughter takes it in turns, usually the more tired she is the more she wiggles. I just try to make sure she keeps on schedule and doesn’t get too tired.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

You bring up a great point, Cindy. Thank you.

Jenny K.

says:

I have a wiggler. My daughter usually builds with blocks, or draws while I read out loud. I have found that after lunch works best for us to get some read a loud time in for the day. Love all the great suggestions shared by other homeschool families.

Jennifer Vasquez

says:

Love the post and the tips!! We will definitely be giving these a go with my wiggles.

Sarah

says:

We read before bed and during craft time . Works great for the kids .

Kristen

says:

We read at bedtime so they are exhausted from their day and do not move. I also have read to them in the bathtub several times, which they enjoy. But I have read there is great evidence supporting that when you read something and then draw it out on paper it helps to solidify the concepts being read.

Heather Hutchinson

says:

Reading and snack time together is a win win in our family!

Alison

says:

Great ideas!

Bethany Furness

says:

Thanks for all the ideas! My first is wiggly sometimes, but she can sit and read books together for very long periods of time. Coming up with #2, I don’t think it’s going to go the same way.

Lisa

says:

Unfortunately, we took the safe route and waited til our wiggler was at the stage when she wouldn’t interrupt constantly! Now we are reading aloud every day! She was a late speller reader as well but finally, we are spelling, writing and reading fluently!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Lisa,
It is encouraging to many to hear that your late reader and speller is now doing so well. Thank you for sharing.

Shamaal

says:

Hello I have fell in love with All about learning press products. I would be extremely grateful If I won this for my 1st grade, son. Thank You for the opportunity to be given a chance. :)

Katrina

says:

We utilized the “read while they’re in the tub” idea a lot when my crew was little! They never wanted to get out of the bath and were too little to leave unattended so I started doing it one day just so I would have something useful to do. (We hadn’t had a chance to get to our read-aloud time that evening and it was getting late).

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Katrina,
I love the multitasking aspect of reading while they are in the tub!

Sarah

says:

My boys love being read to, listening to audiobooks but when we have the more moving two year old little brother along, the big boys start building him a train track that keeps him busy and they are love listening to a story while they build!

Suz

says:

We love audio books in the car!

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