Help! My Child Won’t Sit Still for Story Time

Imagine a family enjoying read-aloud time together. You probably picture an adult cozied up with an attentive and still child. The reality is, though, that children learn via all their senses and their bodies are built to move. Many children go through a phase in which they do not want to sit and listen to books. Parents who’ve been there speak to the value of persistence. When a child won’t sit still for story time, reading aloud still offers enormous benefits whether children sit still or not. Keeping up the effort through the wiggles goes a long way towards making read aloud time a longstanding family habit. If you have a squirmy little one, consider these strategies:

Just keep reading.

Just as adults enjoy listening to audio books while commuting or doing housework, children often enjoy listening to a book while doing something else. Try offering a wiggly child a choice: “Would you like to sit on the couch and look at the pictures while I read, or would you like to play while you listen?” If you are skeptical of this strategy, try a little experiment. Read a story while allowing your child to move around the room as he or she pleases, and then ask a few questions about the book content. Many parents report that their children still recall what they heard even if they were busy moving around.

Make movement intentional.

There are many children’s books that lend themselves to enjoying through movement. Choose books that invite children to act out story events or dance as you read. Some of our Raising Readers favorites are action-based stories by Denise Fleming like In the Tall, Tall Grass and song books by Jane Cabrera like If You’re Happy and You Know It.

Try out different reading locations and times.

Many parents report success with reading during unconventional times when children are naturally contained. Try reading a book while your child eats lunch in his high chair or at the table. Or, read a story while your child paddles in the tub. You can even turn creating a reading spot into a simple project: Invite your toddler to decorate a cardboard box big enough for her to sit inside. Add a little blanket and stuffed animal, and she may be happy to sit still inside her creation while you read!

Make read aloud quick and engaging.

Regardless of when and where you read, a few minutes is all that many young children can realistically sit. Reading aloud for several short spurts across the day does add up, so keep books accessible to be ready to take advantage of those moments of stillness. Many children gradually build up the stamina to sit for longer with repeated practice over time.

Reading in a playful, expressive way can entice children to sit and listen – just think of the way a librarian or preschool teacher can transfix an entire group of children. Don’t be shy! Your child will think you’re a star performer.

Offer strategic tools.

Sometimes a simple support can make a big difference in children’s willingness and ability to sit still. Some wiggle worms settle in with the gentle weight and snuggly sensation of a blanket tucked around their legs on the couch. Having something to hold can help, too. Babies can hold (or chew on!) a small toy or their own board book. Toddlers often rise to the challenge of holding a baby doll or stuffed animal to “help” it listen to the story. Some older children find that fiddling with a special read aloud “fidget” toy like a small, squeezable ball or a Rubik’s cube helps curb the impulse to squirm.

Did your child go through a wiggly phase? Send us your success stories about how you managed to keep on reading! Post them on our Facebook page or email them to info@raisingreaders.org and we’ll post them for you.

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