Inside: Got kids who won’t sit still when you are trying to read? Here are some great ways to get your reading in without forcing children to sit on your lap who just don’t want to!
My firstborn child, a girl, loved to read. From such a young age she’d sit with me and let me read board book after board book. We’d point and smile and as she got older it never changed. Then I had boys. And my boys did not do that. I would get frustrated that my sons wouldn’t sit in my lap during story time and nearly threw in the reading towel until I came to a very important conclusion…
Just because they won’t sit still doesn’t mean they don’t like reading.
You might be saying “yeah, duh” but this was a game changer for me. Once I realized that I took a different approach to story time with boys and it made all the difference. Now my nearly 3 year old and 18 month old will sit on my lap during story time (not that they have to) and will let me finish a few books at a time.
Here’s how to read to kids who won’t sit still
1. Don’t make them sit still.
My boys would sort of walk, hope, or bounce around the chair I sat in to read and though they were not still they were listening. I wouldn’t let them talk or yell or make a ruckus, but I would not try to make them sit at my feet or in my lap. They’d come look at the picture, smile, walk away and then come back. It was a tad frustrating to me, but it was what it was and they enjoyed it.
2. Distract them while reading.
Sounds counter intuitive, but I’ve found that giving them something sensory related to do often helps them concentrate. I’ll sit my 18 month old on my lap and bounce him. If someone bounced me and I tried to concentrate on a book I’d probably throw up, but not my boys! You can give them a ball or silent toy to hold and they will fidget. Somehow this actually helps free their mind to pay attention.
3. Don’t read word for word.
When my boys were little and actually made some progress in paying attention, I’d be sure not to prolong the story. Literacy is promoted by any reading or word based activities, so summarizing a page or story is good too. Sometimes I’d read until I sensed they were about to check out, then I’d covertly skip to one of the last pages to round out the story. Can’t say they noticed, but it gave us a chance to celebrate finishing the book!
3. Ask lots of questions.
Whether they are popping around you or fidgeting on your lap, point to pages of the book and ask questions. For older children ask questions about the plot or characters to get the conversation going. If children have bought into the book or story time they’re more likely to pay attention. For smaller ones you can ask what color something is, what sound it makes or whats their favorite part of the page. For older children, the sky’s the limit.
4. Let them choose the books.
I like to let my kids pick the books because there’s a lot higher chance they’ll actually let me read it if they were interested in the first place. My son will listen to long books on tractors now without much drama, but he’ll only get a few pages into his sister’s Fancy Nancy before jumping around us. Which is understandable. As you get older and begin to read chapter books regularly to children, why not rotate which child gets to pick which book? And if they truly don’t enjoy it, don’t force the issue and risk giving them a bad taste in their mouth about it all.
I know certain personalities of ours (ahem, whose with me Type A moms?) tend to dislike busyness and chaos. If it’s reading time the ideal situation in our minds is everyone sitting quietly with their hands in their laps paying close attention and not uttering a word. That typically isn’t the case with small children and particularly when you have a few you’re reading to at one time. Don’t let reading time become cumbersome by becoming frustrated. The days are long but, after all, these years are so short!
Ultimately, reading is an awesome awesome thing! Even if your little ones act uninterested that doesn’t mean they won’t become interested soon though if you push through. While there are definitely developmental and academic benefits to reading it’s also a great family bonding activity so don’t worry if you get off to a rocky start. Keep going and work together with your child to introduce them to the great joy of a good book.
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