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Is Your Child Too Wiggly to Read?

Sitting still and listening to a story is a developmental skill that can be nurtured over time. Sometimes young children are just too full of energy to sit still and pay attention to a book. They’re like a basket full of puppies needing to wiggle, run and play. How will you ever instill a love of reading into your wiggly toddler or preschooler? Never fear. There are ways to give your child the freedom to work out the wiggles and still leave time for some snuggly reading time.

Here are 10 strategies that just might work for your little wiggler:

1. Be sure your child gets adequate active playtime before choosing to read. Children will be much more likely to manage quiet reading time if they’ve ‘used up their wiggles’ in vigorous play.

2. Choose naptime or bedtime as primary reading times. Your child is already sleepy and ready for cuddly quiet time. Some parents find that reading during bath time works well.

3. Many parents find that allowing their child to draw, do a lacing card, build with Legos or hold something in their hand, such as a stress ball or thinking putty, helps with body management. This is especially true for children who are kinesthetic learners; they need to touch, feel and keep their hands busy.

4. Build the skill according to your childs age and development. Younger children need shorter reading times. You, as the parent, will best know your child’s readiness for listening. Select short pieces to read: several short poems or nursery rhymes, or a book with few words.

5. Do interactive reading’ in which you spend a lot of time talking about the pictures and asking for responses from your child. “What sound does that dog make?” or, “What color is the truck?” Merely interacting with the pages of a book builds reading-readiness skills. Or select books that give the child the opportunity to open pockets, zip up zippers, touch and feel textures and the like.

6. Write books about your own family members. Make reading time personal with stories of your daily life, the antics of your pets and the fun things your family is doing. These homegrown stories will become your child’s favorites.

7. Follow your childs latest interests. Children love to read about their favorite movie character, their favorite sport, their favorite anything. Find titles at your local library and then move to new books as your child’s interests grow and change.

8. Choice is a big factor in motivation for reading activities. When you allow your child to pick the book at the library or at reading times, you encourage buy-in and increase quality of the reading experience.

9. Try using audio books when driving in the car. Children are a ‘captive audience’ in their car seats and it may help to pass the time while increasing listening skills.

10. Follow-up activities may be appropriate at times. A craft, a snack related to the reading topic or a game that incorporates the reading topic may help keep reading time enjoyable.

Above all, be sure reading time is a positive experience. You may have to abandon reading time once in a while or try again at a later time. It’s so important that children look forward to reading times as pleasurable experiences. Read-alouds are one of the ways we build a desire in our children to ‘do it myself’ at the appropriate time.

Believe it or not, wiggly toddlers and preschoolers can listen to short pieces that reflect their interests. Short and sweet reading times - that’s the solution to the wiggles.

Good Books for Interactive Reading Times:

  • The Cheerios Play Book by Lee Wade

  • Airplane Flight! by Susanna Leonard Hill

  • Open the Barn Door by Christopher Santoro

  • Elmos Big Lift-and-Look Book by Anna Ross

  • Lift the Flap Books by Karen Katz

  • Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

  • Press Here by Hervé Tullet

  • Where Is Babys Belly Button? by Karen Katz

Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and author of Homegrown Readers: Simple Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Read. Find Jan at

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