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Can’t Sit Still? Tips to Make Reading Together More Enjoyable

Category: Where The Child Things Are
Posted: September 13, 2018

By: Katy Almendinger, Early Literacy Librarian

A man sits with his kid on lap reading to him.Not every child can sit still long enough to listen to a story, and that’s OK! It’s natural to have concerns about how to raise a reader when your child can’t sit still. I have some tips to help make reading together a more enjoyable experience.

Interactive and Dynamic Stories

Some of my favorite stories to share are interactive stories like Hervé Tullet’s Press Here. Movement helps children learn, and as this article from the Washington Post suggests, many children aren’t getting enough movement. Interactive stories often come with built-in opportunities to get the wiggles out. Play and movement opportunities also support higher attention levels. I Spy or guessing books engage young children. Books with flaps, textures, mirrors, or pulls help capture the attention of children. Board Books with these features can be especially appealing for babies. Letting children interact with the dynamic elements of books at their own pace encourages active exploration.


Ownership and interest are important elements of reading success. Give children options and let them choose which books they want to read. Their choices may surprise you.

It’s OK to Stop, but Don’t Give Up

Reading and attention are skills that develop with practice and age. According to this article on the average attention spans of toddlers, the average 16- to 19-month-old can stay attentive to an activity for 3-6 minutes. At three to four years, the average climbs to 8-10 minutes. Is that a long enough time to read a picture book? If not, it’s OK to stop reading in the middle of a story or to read in smaller chunks of time based on where your child is developmentally. Just keep showing interest in stories and keep trying.

Don’t Force Them to Sit Still

Is your child moving all the time? Give them something to touch or play with while you read, like Play-Doh, a puzzle, or a fidget. Listening doesn’t look the same for every child. Some children may not look like they’re listening – but they probably are!

Find the Best Time and Place

Children can get hangry, too. They can be more easily upset when they’re overly tired. Avoid reading when your child is already tired, hungry, or upset. Switch it up and figure out what time and environment works best for your child. Reading is supposed to be fun!

Give Them a Summary

Kids like to know what to expect. Tag lines and summaries on book covers are powerful motivators for readers. For younger kids, tell them a little bit about the story before you sit down to read. You can even paraphrase the summary on the book.

It’s normal for your family’s reading routine to develop over time with trial and error. Experimenting with different techniques will help you find that magic combination for your family. Keep trying! Just like a sport or an instrument, reading requires practice.

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