Reading great books together is a part of our young family’s culture and I get asked fairly regularly how I get my kids to “sit still and pay attention” for chapter books.
Here are my top 5 tips:
- Start early. My first two children vary a great deal in the length of their attention span, but from the time they were babies, I read aloud to them every day. Even if the content isn’t “at their level”, they get accustomed to my voice and the flow of the written words. Babies don’t care if you’re reading a board book or your scriptures, or a medical school textbook. They just like to see and hear you and be close to you.
Books rule at our house, so anytime a toddler brings me a book to read, I try my best to pull them on my lap and make it happen.
- Take advantage of a captive audience. My favorite time to read-aloud is mealtime. The most wiggly kids are buckled into high chairs and their mouths are generally busy chewing food, allowing the whole family to hear and enjoy the story. If you don’t get carsick, read aloud in the car while your spouse is driving.
- Sitting still is *not* required. Although mealtime is a great time to read, I don’t mind a bit if the kids are playing quietly while I’m reading aloud. I’ve found they still absorb a tremendous amount.
We have just two rules: You can’t be reading a book while I’m reading aloud (yes, my four year old still tries to double-up sometimes) and you must respectful (ie quiet) so everyone can hear the reader.
- Pick the perfect book to start. Especially if your kids are a little bit older and still unaccustomed to chapter books, I highly recommend carefully choosing a book that will capture their interest. Read it in an animated way (with different voices for different characters if possible).
Also, remember that it takes time to develop a palate and a patience for high-quality literature. Consider starting with longer illustrated stories first (Bill Peet picture books, for instance) and work your way up to books without pictures and with more complex plots and elevated vocabulary.
Aim for fun and engaging and stay far away from inane. You’re far more likely to convey a love for reading if you enjoy reading the book yourself! Here’s a list of Great Read-Aloud Books to consider.
- Kill it before it’s dead. That’s my rule of thumb for all sorts of things I do with my kids. Basically, I try to leave them begging for more.
- Stop at a suspenseful part of the book.
- Use extra read-aloud minutes as an earned reward.
- Read at bedtime or before naptime so the more you read, the longer they get to delay going to sleep.
- My kids love the “reading machine” while they are working on cleaning up a mess. Basically I commit to read as long as they are working hard on cleaning. It’s win-win-win.
And you? What works at your house?