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HELP…My Kids Won’t Sit Still During Story Time

Today I’ll be addressing a question sent in by a reader.  She wanted to know how she could get her children to sit and listen attentively during story time.  I’m sure some of you may be wondering the same thing too.  Or perhaps you’ve thought about it before in the past or read about it on other blogs or in books.

Rest assured that many parents and caregivers have experienced this before – myself included.  During the first few months of my daughter’s life before she learned to crawl and move around on her own, I was in story time heaven so to speak.  Meaning, I could read as many books to her as I wanted and she wouldn’t move.

Then, once she became more mobile, all hell broke loose!  I often found myself getting frustrated because she wouldn’t sit still and listen during story time anymore.  I nearly threw in the read aloud towel until I finally understood it’s perfectly normal for kids not to sit still…they should be moving.  In fact, they need to move.  It’s good for their developing bodies and brains.  Once I realized that I took a different approach to story time and it made all the difference.  Below are a few things to consider that have helped me.

1. Just keep on reading.
Even if you don’t think your kids are listening, just continue reading because chances are they are in fact listening.  Last night during story time the kids started out listening attentively as we all sat on the bed, but then daddy came into the room.  They started jumping on the bed and wanted to play with him.  I just kept on reading until I finished all of the remaining books.  Every now and then one of the kids would come over and listen for a minute or two and then go right back to playing and jumping.

One of the things I like to do to test if the kids are really listening is to make dramatic pauses every now and then between words or sentences.  This works especially well if it’s a book the kids are really familiar with and know word-for-word.  When I take a brief pause and stop reading 9 times out of 10 the kids will jump in right on cue with the next word or phrase.  That’s how I know they’re listening and paying attention.  Try it and see if it works for you.

2. Paraphrase when needed.
Let’s face it, sometimes you have those days when you just want to get through a book so you can go to bed or get on with something else you need to do (like finish a last-minute blog post).  On days like those paraphrasing is your best friend.  That means don’t be afraid to skip some words or sentences every now and then.  Or, if there is an interesting illustration on the page just talk about the picture.  For example, if you see a horse on the page say, “Look at the horse!  What sound does a horse make?  What is the horse doing?”  Then move on to the next page.  Don’t worry, you’re still building language and literacy skills.

3. Give them ownership over choosing which books to read.
Although my kids don’t currently select their own books from the store or the library, I do allow them to pick which books we’ll read at story time.  That automatically gives them a sense of ownership like they’re in control.  It also increases their chances of actually wanting to sit and listen to the book as it’s being read.

4. Don’t force your kids to sit still.
In our adult minds, we expect kids to sit down like perfect little angels and pay attention during circle time and story time.  Especially if we’re out in public at a play group or library story time event.  Remember when I said kids need to move?  Yes, it’s true.  So don’t be that mom constantly chasing after your kids if they don’t want to sit down and conform to your agenda or the agenda at hand.  If they want to explore the environment or play quietly then I say let them.  They’re still benefiting from hearing the words being read aloud.  Now if they’re acting out, having a tantrum or being disruptive to others then stop reading until they’ve calmed down (if you’re reading at home).  If you’re out in public, it may be best to go out into the hall or restroom until they’re settled.

Bottom line is don’t expect your toddlers or preschoolers to sit still for an entire 30-minute read aloud session.  Yes, even if you’re out in public and all the other kids are sitting down quietly in a cross-legged position with their hands on their laps.  Don’t beat yourself over it.

5. Read during mealtimes or bath time.
Sometimes I read to the kids during dinnertime (now that they can both feed themselves) or at bath time.  Since they are either strapped into their high chairs or sitting in the tub there is no where else for them to go.  They have no choice but to sit (or stand in the tub) and listen.

6. Keep their hands occupied.
This is one of the best tips I learned from reading books and listening to podcasts.  Keeping their hands busy during story time works wonders.  You can give kids things like paper and crayons, Playdoh, yarn, blocks, Legos, pom poms, or anything that will keep their little hands occupied while you read.

7. Ask your children questions as you read.
Whether they are jumping 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.  For smaller ones you can ask what they think will happen next, what color something is, what sound an animal makes or whats their favorite part of the page.

8. Listen to books online or try audio books.
This is one area we haven’t had too much experience in, but I’ve heard listening to books online and audio books are rather effective.  These could be great alternatives on days when you just don’t feel like reading or have too much on your plate, but don’t want to skip your read aloud session with the kids.

Don’t let your read aloud sessions become cumbersome and frustrating.  Even if your little ones act disinterested that doesn’t mean they won’t eventually become interested.  Just keep pushing through even when you feel like quitting.  And don’t worry if you get off to a rocky start with your reading time.  Keep going and work together with your children to introduce them to the joys of reading.  Most of all remember to have fun! Be silly and enjoy this time of exploring the world with your children through books.

P.S. If you have a question related to reading or literacy feel free to contact me.  I love hearing from people who read this blog!  I’m no self-proclaimed literacy or reading expert, but I will do my best to answer any questions asked.

Your turn:  Help our reader friend who submitted this question out.  Do your kids sit still during story time?  What additional tips would you let her know?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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14 thoughts on “HELP…My Kids Won’t Sit Still During Story Time

  1. I haven’t read to kids in a home setting for about a decade (little brothers), but one thing I do w/ my kids at school to keep them engaged is to pick books with an opportunity for kids to read parts with me, do a motion with the story, etc. This week, kindergarten read There Was an Old Monster (akin to the old lady who swallowed the fly) and first grade will read Ol’ Clip Clop, a spooky tale where they get to make galloping sounds with their hands. 🙂

    Questioning and dramatic pauses are tips I use as well!

  2. I get really dramatic when I read. I change my voice into silly voices and I ask questions on certain parts and say things like, “oh my goodness, he is too funny!” Or “she’s silly isn’t she? What do you think?” I over dramatize to keep my kids interested and they love it. Your tips are really good though, I plan to try reading to them during bath and meal time 🙂

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  4. My littlest is all about being active, as opposed to my oldest, who will literally sit for hours and hours if you are reading to her. So my 1-year-old listens to books standing up, bouncing and dancing. I don’t try to get her to sit or snuggle in my lap for story time; I just try to get through a few pages before she’s off running somewhere!

  5. These are all great tips but what do you do when you bring your kid to story time at the library and all he wants to do is crawl around and over everyone, grab for people’s iphones, grab sippy cups that other moms have sitting with their stuff, grab the ipad that is playing the music the instructor is using, basically spend his time getting into every single thing that is not part of story time, regardless of the bubbles or book or toys that they have there. I basically have to chase him around the entire time, not to keep him still but to keep him from being a giant pain in the ass to everyone. Meanwhile all the other kids at least stay by their moms and are at least slightly engaged with the room.

    1. In that case, I would probably refrain from bringing my child to storytime events until they can sit quietly or be less disruptive in a group setting.

      1. But its the only social interaction he has with other kids. He is with mommy all day, daddy works a lot and he has no other siblings. We had him late in life so I don’t know anyone else with young kids. We’ve been going to story time for a while but now that he can crawl he could care less. How can I teach him to behave in a group setting if he is never in a group setting?

        1. Hello, no idea if this is an old post, but my daughter is doing the exact same thing, I ended up here looking for advice, same situation, it’s very important social time for both of us. At least you know you’re not alone! Did you ever figure out anything that helped?

          1. Hello!

            I understand as the parent it can be frustrating to want your child to sit perfectly quiet and listen during story time. However, I believe it’s fine for kids to want to be active especially if they are age 2 and under. I’m not sure how old your daughter is, but I say just let her be unless she’s being downright disruptive to the entire group. Hope that helps somewhat.

  6. From a librarian’s perspective:
    Active children are welcome at story time! There should be many opportunities to move and engage with the group woven into the time you spend in the story time program. I thank you for keeping close to your little ones and preventing them from taking someone else’s sippy cup, pushing buttons on the CD player, or pulling down the flannel board. If your child is throwing a tantrum or really disrupting the group, please step out of the room together and come back as soon as you’re ready. Keep reading and singing at home to build that your child’s interest in sounds and language; if there’s a song that I sing each week at story time, singing it at home helps your child become more familiar and engaged when in the library setting. Really– parent to parent conversations during the program can be much more challenging to ignore; that extra noise and confusion really does distract from the program. Toddlers being toddlers (even very busy ones) — that’s to be expected.

  7. Here, here, from another librarian that does story times. I have had parents that were upset that the children were supposed to sit for those few minutes and another mom brought me rules from another library for their library time because she felt it was to chaotic. I don’t believe you can please everyone. You just have to read your audience. I have always started with a get your wiggles out song, but I’m going to try soft music and yoga for awhile to see how that goes.

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    1. Hello! Thank you! I definitely DO have a donate button located in the sidebar on the right hand side. It’s a PayPal donation button. Thanks again for your kind words!