I’ve got one child that could sit snuggled up with mama on the couch for HOURS reading books. She loves reading, being read to, and reading to others. Sitting still for a story is not a struggle for her at all. I loved our read-aloud times! When it came time to include her little sister in our read-aloud time, however, I had quite a different experience.
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As a toddler, she would climb all over us and end up sitting on our open book. Even as she grew, she still remained quite wiggly and unable to keep from chatting, sitting upside down, or otherwise bouncing around the room.
I quickly grew frustrated with our read-aloud time, and I’ve since had to adjust my expectations AND offer some alternatives to sitting quietly and snuggling on the couch with a book.
Do you have a wiggly child that has trouble sitting still and staying engaged during for read-alouds? Maybe you have a busy toddler or preschooler who is present for read-alouds but whose constant motion is a distraction to others?
What’s a mama to do?!
Adjust your expectations
The first thing I had to do was to adjust my expectations for how I thought read-aloud time should look in my family. It was just not realistic for me to expect my active child to sit still for lengthy reading sessions. It is going to take time and practice to develop that ability.
Not only that, but I discovered that having something to do with her hands actually increases her ability to concentrate, focus, and engage with the story! While I would prefer everyone to sit completely still to improve my focus and ability to read, my children’s needs and my own differ significantly in this area.
Give your kids something to keep their hands busy
Begin your reading time by setting out mama-approved activities that will keep their hands busy and their minds engaged. Let your kids know that they can participate in the activity as long as they can do so without making excessive noise or talking. I tell my kids that they may have the privilege as long as it is helping them to listen and not hindering them or others from doing so.
Here are 50 ideas for activities that will help keep your busy kids quiet (& engaged) during read-aloud time. Some of these activities are quieter than others, so choose ones that you feel will work best with your crew. There’s a lot here to choose from, so hopefully, you will find something helpful for your family.
These types of toys can be a great way for active kids to engage with what they are learning — building models, scenes, and even characters from the books they are hearing. They can sometimes be a bit noisy though, so you will have to gauge both your tolerance for ambience noise and your child’s ability to keep their digging around for parts to a minimum.
2. Bristle Blocks – we have these ones, and they are perfect for toddlers & preschoolers (my big kids like to play around with them too!)
3. Lincoln Logs – this would be an especially great way for kids to engage with the Little House on the Prairie or other pioneer books!
4. Marble Run
Sensory play can be an especially good way to keep your littlest listeners occupied during read-aloud time, but even older children will enjoy keeping their hands busy this way while listening. Play-Doh and modelling clay also have the advantage of being very quiet!
9. Modelling Clay
9. Water play
10. Sensory Bins/Bags
12. Pattern Blocks
13. Lacing Cards
14. Peg Boards
17. Rubix Cube
18. Etch A Sketch
19. Magna Doodle
21. Shape sorter
This is my ideal for read-aloud activities – curling up with your children, a good book and some fibre arts in front of the fire sounds so very inviting, doesn’t it? Best for ages 6 and up, but give your preschooler a lacing card and let them pretend!
22. Finger Knitting
23. Loom Kitting – this one was a favourite at our house this winter — even my 6-year-old was able to knit a hat for her doll! We got ours at Micheal’s Craft Store, but it is similar to this one.
26. Needlepoint & cross stitch
27. Beading – toddlers and preschoolers can even participate with beading using large, wooden, lacing beads like these.
28. Rainbow Loom
29. Perler Beads
Art & Paper Crafts
Probably best when you are doing your reading at the table, these activities are great for all ages!
31. Drawing – kids can draw their favourite part of the story!
34. Painting – if you want to avoid the mess use watercolours or paint with water sets.
36. Cutting – keep your toddler quiet with a pair of safety scissors and scrap paper from the recycling bin!
38. Hair braiding
39. Paint fingernails
40. bath – throw your youngest kids in the bathtub while reading to your olders!
“Trick” your kids into doing work while you put up your feet and read to them – it’s a win-win!
41. Wash dishes
42. Fold Laundry or hang out on the line
Because mouths that are filled with food are generally quieter than those that are not!
44. Snack – make snack time your read-aloud time.
45. Lunchtime – schedule your longer readings for lunchtime.
46. Popsicles – this is an amazing way to keep toddlers quiet while you read to older children!
47. Gum – a piece of gum may be all you need to keep your kids quiet during read-alouds!
Take it Outside!
This is a favourite of my children. Mama sits on a lawn chair while the kids enjoy these fun activities close by. Or we combine taking it outside with the above-mentioned eating and enjoy what we like to call a “book picnic“.
49. Blowing bubbles
50. Sidewalk chalk