Read aloud time is a big part of our family culture, but I can attest that my kids almost never sit still! Sometimes they drive me bonkers with their bouncing around. Fortunately, Amy is here to give your some great ideas for read aloud activities that your kids can do without driving you bonkers. — Erica
Let me tell you what reading aloud does not look like in our family: me sitting in the rocking chair, reading a book, while my four boys sit quietly on the couch, legs crossed, hands in lap, attention riveted on me.
To me, that scenario sounds ridiculous (and it probably does to you, too), and yet, I think many of us have this idyllic picture in our heads when it comes to reading to our kids. We want them to be attentive and engaged and not disrupt the flow of the story.
These are reasonable expectations, but the way to get there might look contradictory. Many, if not most, kids will be more focused and quiet if they can keep their hands active with something else. This doesn’t really surprise me because when I am listening to an audiobook or watching a movie, I like to be doing something else at the same time, like folding laundry or knitting, and my kids are the same way when they’re listening to me read to them.
Today I want to share a few of our favorite ways to help the hands keep pace with the brain, but first I should mention that we do have a few rules in our family of things we’re not allowed to do during read-aloud time.
- Read a different story silently. You would think this would go without saying, but you’d be surprised how often I have to tell my kids to put away a book before I start reading to them.
- Wrestle. I don’t know why boys have this need to poke and tackle and head-lock each other, but they do, and it can escalate really quickly and turn a peaceful evening into a wild and crazy one. (Jumping up and down because the story is so exciting is totally acceptable though.)
- Talk to each other. I know some parents can handle a little bit of background chatting, but I cannot. Discussions related to the book are fine, but comments about a Lego set are not.
Simple rules aside, there are still many things they can do that are appropriate and actually increase their attention rather than hinder it. Here are a few of our favorites:
My kids love puzzles, and so do I. We often read in the living room where we have a nice-size coffee table, perfect for spreading out puzzle pieces. Sometimes they work on a small puzzle they can easily finish during our reading time, and sometimes it’s a larger puzzle that gets slowly put together over the course of several nights. The only problem with this one is that sometimes I get lured into the puzzle too and end up snapping together pieces rather than reading!
There’s something very calming about folding a piece of paper into a shape. My oldest son is especially a fan, although his brothers are quick to jump in when they see him pull out the origami paper. Last year, they folded sixty hearts for my dad’s sixtieth birthday, and most of that folding happened while I was reading to them.
My kids will often pull out markers or crayons or colored pencils when they’re listening to a book. We have a collection of coloring books, or sometimes they like for me to print off a coloring page (I happen to know Erica has a number of excellent choices right here). Plain white paper is a good option as well. Some parents even have their kids draw pictures of what is happening in the story they’re listening to, but we haven’t been that creative yet.
I know families with several girls who all sit around and braid one another’s hair while listening to a story. Since we have all boys, I never expected this to be a favorite activity in our home, but they proved me wrong. My kids actually love to brush and play with my hair while I’m reading to them, and I’m not complaining one bit!
Sometimes I catch myself saying, “Hurry and finish your snack so we can read.” Then I remember that eating and reading go together perfectly! Mouths and hands are busy so I don’t even have to worry about the chatting rule.
All three of my older boys love Legos. My husband especially takes advantage of the times when they’re already busy building to read another chapter in their latest book. The hardest part for me is the rustling through the Lego bin when they’re searching for a specific piece. It’s rather noisy.
We discovered Thinking Putty this year and have become big fans of it. It’s similar to silly putty, but it comes in cooler colors and feels less rubbery. My kids love to squish, roll, stretch, and mold it while I’m reading to them. It’s relaxing and doesn’t require much brain power, leaving their minds free to focus on the story. (I should probably warn you though that within a couple weeks of getting it, they all had stuck it on something they shouldn’t have.) Play dough, gak, or really any type of tactile, squishy substance would work just as well.
I like my kids to straighten up their rooms each night before they go to bed. Sometimes this happens before we read together, but if we’re crunched for time, then I just lay down on one of the bunk beds while they gather up dirty laundry, put away art supplies, and clear off their dresser. It’s multi-tasking at its finest.
Reading aloud is one of the few times my kids actually want to be beside me with their head on my shoulder and their arms wrapped around me. I love it, but unfortunately, I am only one person, and there are four of them. So we usually take turns. I’ll read a few pages with one of them beside me and then they switch. While the others are waiting for their turn, they’re busy with one of the other activities listed above.
On any given day, you’ll usually find my kids engaged in one of these activities while I’m reading to them. But occasionally, I’ll glance up from my reading and find several sets of eyes fixed on me, their hands stilled over their various projects, totally engrossed in the story. And you know what? That’s okay, too.
What do your kids do while you are reading to them? I’d love to get some more ideas of quiet activities that work well while reading aloud!
Book lists for family read alouds:
Visit more of Amy’s posts!
On Sunlit Pages:
- Follow Amy’s video series, The Book Blab
- How to make a home library
- Reading Farmer Boy
- 5 things I started doing in 2015 that changed my life for the better
On this blog:
- Why you should read to older kids
- How to memorize poetry with kids
- How to find time to read (without neglecting your children)
Amy is an avid reader and the mother of four rambunctious boys. Her life goal is to make them as obsessed with books as she is. (Judging from the dozens of books scattered all over her house, she has been successful so far.) She blogs at Sunlit Pages where she writes about a variety of books – from what she is currently reading to her kids’ favorite picture books.