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My first child, a girl, would sit and read books with me for hours from the very beginning. She loved crawling into my lap and reading first thing in the morning, before nap and throughout the day whenever she came across a good book. We started a wonderful routine of reading bedtime books with daddy every night since the day we brought her home from the hospital and she still looks forward to that time each day. Now at four, she can sit and listen to an entire chapter book in one sitting.
When my second child, a boy, came along I assumed we would read to him just as we did with his sister, but the reality didn’t work out that way. As a mom of two, I’m busier and don’t have such a set schedule to fit reading into. And when I find time to sit and read to my boy, he won’t sit still! He is almost 2 now and is finally starting to want to sit and listen to a few of his favorite books, but for the most part he prefers to be on the go at all times.
I know the importance of reading aloud to children and that it is the single most important factor in building a child’s literacy and shaping their future. After a little worry that my son was never going to love reading and would never sit down to read a good book, I let those fears go and decided to embrace the gift of his wild spirit … and read to him anyway.
How can I read to my spirited child who refuses to sit down for more than 30 seconds? Here’s a few ideas!
1. Don’t force it. It’s not worth a power struggle to force an unwilling child to sit still for books. I try to remember that reading aloud works whether the child is sitting in a parent’s lap or playing trains nearby. It feels odd reading children’s books to myself sometimes, but I know that eventually curiosity will bring my little one to my lap to study the pictures and see what the excitement is all about.
2. Put on a show. Reading books to little ones should be fun! I I’ll often look for audiobooks of YouTube videos of the books we read for ideas on how to make the most of each book. One of my favorite examples of how to turn a simple story into a performance that engages little ones is this video of author Michael Rosen reading “Going on a Bear Hunt.”
3. Play favorites. Children love what they are familiar with and thrive on repetition. My children will ask to read the same book over and over again for weeks and I am happy to oblige. I try to fit in new books too, but when a child wants to read a book, that’s something to celebrate, even if we’ve already read it fifteen times that day.
4. Distract the hands. My little ones do better when they have something in their hands to provide sensory stimulation and allow the eyes to watch and the ears to listen. A few books lend themselves perfectly to a complimentary object like a teddy bear with a book about bears or a toy car for a book about cars, but any small object seems to help.
5. Abbreviate. There’s no rule that says we have to read every word on the page. I’m known for reading the “abridged” version of many books when I feel like my kids don’t have the attention span or the interest in a book. I often paraphrase or skip entire pages so that we can enjoy reading without feeling like it is drawn out or overdone.
6. Choose quality books. We are a family of book lovers, yet we have a rather small collection of books. I choose quality over quantity and want books with excellent writing and beautiful illustrations. Starting at age 2, we love all of the classics on the Before Five in a Row book list and now that my oldest is approaching kindergarten, we’re working through a Charlotte Mason-inspired book list.
For wiggly little ones under age 2 with a limited attention span, we prefer fun and classic board books. I’ve compiled our top 10 favorite board books that we read over and over (and over!) again.
1. Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? by Dr. Seuss
2. Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle
3. What Makes a Rainbow? by Betty Ann Schwartz
4. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
5. Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton
6. B is for Bear by Roger Priddy
7. Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field
8. Ten Tiny Tickles by Karen Katz
9. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
10. Belly Button Book by Sandra Boynton