Reading to a toddler who won’t sit still is can feel impossible. We’re trying to expose them to a key developmental aspect but they’re not eager to sit and listen. Reading to children is important for development as well as creating a future love for books, so I’m sharing tips for how to read to wiggly kids.
Why read to a toddler?
We all know how important it is for our children. The studies are endless on the infinite benefits a child receives from being read to.
- Increase vocabulary.
- Stir a love of books.
- Understanding the concept of reading quicker.
- Understanding words are made of sounds.
Around 11 months old, my son decided that he had no desire to be read to whatsoever. There was a whole world to explore!
He was just learning to walk, getting into everything, and he had no time to sit in my lap and quietly listen to a story.
For a few months, I gave up trying, because each time it would end in screams, squirming out of my lap, and bolting for the door before I could even close the book. It was frustrating, and I felt like I was failing my child as a mother.
I don’t remember how it happened, but I think one day I was sitting with Ryan playing in his room and I saw one of his old favorite books. I picked it up, and I started to read it out loud.
This post was originally written April 2016 and has since been updated
Reading to a Toddler Who Won’t Sit Still
Occasionally he would look at me in recognition, laugh, or come over to me to look at the pages while I read, and then go back to playing. That’s when it clicked – he doesn’t have to be sitting in my lap in order for me to read to him.
If you’re struggling with this yourself, you’ll love learning these easy tactics for how to read to a toddler!
Try while holding them.
This is the most reliable way that I read to toddlers.
Before my kids’ nap and before bed we read one of the few bedtime books that are in our rotation. I would hold them on my hip, place the book on a dresser, and read.
When we read like this he seems most interested and involved. Sometimes he cuddles into my neck since he’s sleepy, but he rarely try to squirm away.
..Or while they play.
Like I mentioned above, some days I would read to Ryan while he’s playing. He’s semi-tuned in, but still able to play and get his wiggles out.
Sometimes he brings me different books to read to him, stands close by to look at the pages for a page or two, then goes back to playing. And in case you doubt that this effort is worthwhile, he actually does get upset if I stop.
Read to your toddler when they’re stuck somewhere.
There are a bunch of places that your toddler is more or less forced to stay in one place.
Meal times and tubby time are both perfect opportunities for reading! Sometimes while a kiddo is eating breakfast and strapped into his highchair, I’ll grab a book, showing him pictures and explaining illustrations.
While he plays in the tub, I like to try longer books that actually interest me a bit, since I don’t really want to show him the pages and risk them going into the tub.
Some of my favorites are Harry Potter or a book of Shel Silverstein poems.
Choose what they love!
There are so many books out there for kids. If your kid shows an interest in a topic, do a quick Amazon search on the topic! You’ll find tons of books on the topic that are more likely to interest them. You can also always check your local library – this is a great way to get THEM to chose the books as well!
Ryan is really into trucks, which is why we buy a lot of truck books for kids, while Owen is really into dinosaur books.
Read what they are “reading”.
Sometimes I look over and Ryan has a book open, babbling and turning pages. I use this to my advantage and read whatever page he is on to him.
No, he doesn’t wait until I’m done before turning the page, but that’s fine – we’re working on just getting him interested in reading!
Remember, any small amount counts!
In the long run, I believe it all counts. You’re building a foundation of reading with your child and letting him know that reading is important and worth his time and focus.
If Ryan will sit in my lap for a page or two before squirming away (and often taking the book with him) I’ll take it. Reading to a toddler is hard, so the sheer fact that I’m impressing upon him that we value reading is important to me.
Do you find reading to a toddler difficult? What are some of your favorite books to share with them? How do you keep reading to your squirmiest littles? Let me know in the comments!
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Heather @ Polyglot Jot says
Great tips–i used to work in the toddler room at a daycare and we always just read while they were playing. They played and took time outs from the story but were still paying attention!
It’s pretty much the only way I can get him to listen to a story – I’m glad that it’s done other places so I’m not crazy! Hahaaha
Amy @ Elephant Eats says
Haha, i can totally relate to this post! I usually will just read whether he’s sitting with me or not, and I’m pretty sure he’s listening. A bigger issue we have is he wants 3 pages of one book before wanting me to switch to another. I like your bath idea 🙂
Hahaha yes! Ryan will bring me a book, Ill start to read and then he’ll come over, either slap it out of my hands or grab it away, and give me a new one! Toddlers…
Ana (@ANAWINSblog) says
Mine are older but I’ve recently started reading chapter books to them in the morning and I read while they play on the floor. I think I am still shocked that they are actually listening, ha! But they are! Reading is important, I definitely want to instill a love for it in them while they are young.
Oh, I’m so glad to hear that this works for older kids as well! I lvoe reading to my son but he’s such a busy bee, and I know that it won’t stop anytime soon!
Leah @ Love and Blues says
Great tips! My favorite book to read to him is his Usborne Noisy Orchestra book. He loves it so much; he’ll bring the book to me and sign “help”! The noise definitely helps keep his attention 😉
Yes! My son loves books with noise, but he usually just wants to hear all of the noises and press the buttons rather than hear mommy read,ha!
Leah @ Love and Blues says
Haha! Yes! I do like the Usborne ones because you can only press one button at a time. The Noisy Orchestra one plays a long song for each button, long enough to play while you read which I think helps 😉
Kristy @ Southern In Law says
So many awesome tips! I help out with a local foster child who absolutely HATES reading (well, she thinks she does) and I’ve had to come up with some pretty creative ways to get her reading. At first I was a little stuck for ideas, until I realised that anything can become a reading/literacy activities – reading a recipe together, reading the tv guide to find her favourite shows, pointing our words in movies/on tshirts/on signs etc and after a lot of perserverance she will now pick up a book and read with me!
Oh, you are so sweet, Kristy! That’s a wonderful thing you do. I think kids have a habit of thinking that reading is JUST books, but obviously we read things all day long!
These are awesome tips! I love encouraging and raising readers, but it can be hard sometimes. Especially when they are young! Thank you for sharing your tips at the #SmallVictoriesSundayLinkup!
It definitely can be difficult, but it’s SO important!
My toddler isn’t a big fan of reading yet either, but we are working on it by exposing him to words and speech in general. Great suggestions! I would add audio books to your list. Our blogging community would be blessed if you shared this at the Literacy Musing Mondays Linkup. #LMMLinkup http://www.foreverjoyful.net/?p=1018
I never thought of audio books – such a smart addition, thanks Leslie!
Thank you for sharing at the Thursday Favorite Things blog hop
I love this!! I have a won’t-sit-still 15-month old daughter, so I can totally relate. She’ll excitedly bring me a book to read to her, but will be over sitting still to have it read after one or two pages. I love how you didn’t give up but instead found creative ways to incorporate such an important thing into your child’s life. Pinning and will definitely have to implement your ideas!
It’s definitely hard! But it’s SO worth it!
Great ideas! I think all children go through a “won’t sit still” phase, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love their books. My son is 2 right now and is the most active person I have ever met. With that being said, he also really loves his books and constantly brings them to me to read. It’s amazing what they hear when they are running like crazy 🙂
I’m definitely shocked by how my son can still pay attention while wreaking havoc and going crazy – it’s just important not to give up!
Karen A Del Tatto says
These are such great tips!!!
My 13 month, precious, very independent and active granddaughter can be a challenge to read to. During her infant stage and more so now, she wants to be in charge of turning the pages. lol. Which is usually at a speed reader pace so it’s hard to read what she is focusing on.
You brought up something that I found so interesting. My son is a kinesthetic learner and always had to be in motion to learn when we homeschooled. Before I found this out, homeschooling was very frustrating because I didn’t think he was listening, but sure enough he heard everything I was teaching him! This made me realize that we are probably born with learning styles and even at 13 months, it can be manifesting itself. By trying to get my granddaughter to sit for a book is counterintuitive to how she processes. I loved your idea of reading to them while they are playing! I also loved the standing up and holding them with the book on the dresser. Perfect idea!
I will be sharing this blog post with my daughter. 🙂
Thanks so much!
My kids are all grown up now so this is a long time ago but I used to read action books with them mostly, Going on a Bear Hunt, something like that which we could act out. Also something with a toy or puppet we could act out what is happening in the story with. I know one of mine had a Hungry Caterpillar toy which was loads of fun, and I’m sure at one point one of them had a Cat in the hat toy from a happy meal and that was great for interactive stories.
Reading your ideas made me nostalgic for those times – awh!
Sandra Garth says
These are such great tips and I’m sure new moms and grandparents will love these!
Chloe Crabtree says
Wow, I wish had thought of that with my little one…who is now a mother of toddlers herself. Once she could crawl away, she was done listening to stories! I have passed this on to her, but her two still like to cuddle up for a story most anytime! Thanks for stopping by Celebrate and Decorate to share!
Shauna Schneeman says
I have spent the last 3 weeks trying to force my squirmy one year old to stay in my lap so we could read.. no one was enjoying it! I didn’t think to just read while he does his own thing. Genius! Thank-you for sharing!