To make your read aloud times enjoyable, find quiet activities for your children to do while you read. Don't be too picky about your children being still and quiet during reading. Some children just don't want to snuggle or can't be still to listen to a story, and others just zone out or fall asleep! However, if they have a quiet activity to keep their hands busy, and a few simple rules to follow, you may be surprised how much better they all pay attention.
Drawing and Coloring
You can easily adapt drawing and coloring to fit any child's interest and ability. Provide a tracing desk or lap desk so your child will be comfortable. Set aside several coloring books and crayons that are pulled out only during read aloud times. Dover coloring books offer detailed illustrations on many different topics and themes; you may be able to find one that matches your time period or the actual book you are reading. Additionally, many handwriting books have illustrated pictures.
Alternatively, get out plain white paper and colored pencils and pens so your child can doodle or draw scenes from the story; my youngest daughter never gets tired of drawing. For some variety, purchase the black Crayola Color Explosion paper that magically gets colorful when you use the special markers. For something really different, buy a Spirograph, a geometric drawing toy that produces beautiful mathematical curves.
Many toys can be used for quiet play; again, store them and allow access only during read aloud times. Children can quietly set up plastic animals or a train set, play with a dollhouse or cars, care for dolls, or play with stuffed animals. Legos have always been popular for my son, but other quiet toys are puzzles, blocks, Bendaroos, Magnetix, and Straws and Connectors. Melissa and Doug educational toys provide lots of activities, such as lacing shapes, puzzles, puppets, and magnetic activities. If the noise of falling plastics or blocks bothers you, restrict the read aloud area to a carpeted room or have your children play on a rug.
Arts and Crafts
Surprisingly, your child could also engage in arts and crafts while you read. Just be sure the crafts are age-appropriate and fit your child's abilities so your reading won't be interrupted with frustrated pleas for help. Your child could weave pot holders packaged from Michaels or cross stitch, knit, or crochet. Baby hats and scarves are easy to make for family gifts or dolls, or they can even be donated if you don't need them for your family.
Stamps and stickers are fun, and they can be used to update a history timeline, if you keep one. Also, children can lace cards, string big wooden beads, or bead pegged boards. Michaels and Hobby Lobby carry those types of crafts. Simple origami will interest kids of all ages; you can find online instructions or even books with paper included, such as those published by Klutz. In addition to origami, Klutz books have many other great activities for keeping hands busy. Themes include strings, foam art, peg board games, bracelets, pot holders, etc.
Although play dough and modeling clay can get messy, if you restrict the read aloud and play dough area to a room with hard floors, you will have an easy clean-up after an enjoyable read aloud. Alternatively, try silly putty; it's not quite as messy, as long as you instruct your children not to press it into furniture fabric. If you do lap books or keep a timeline book, a lot of cutting out is required, so set up your child with items to cut out during read alouds. Actually, any kind of cutting project will keep a child busy and quiet; just be sure to use safety scissors, if necessary, depending on the age of your child.
You don't have to read aloud in the living room every time. Change the location for variety. Snuggle up in bed on a rainy day, although the steady tapping of rain usually makes one or two of my children sleepy. Perhaps instead of snuggling, let your children build a fort of blankets around you as you read in bed or at the dining room table. If you read outside, your children can climb the tree that you lean against, or watch the clouds, or swing on the swingset. Just confine the kids to an area close enough to hear the story.
Read aloud during breakfast, lunch or snack time. Your children's hands will be busy moving food to their mouths, and their mouths will be busy chewing, so they will be quiet. Of course, since you cannot eat and read at the same time, you may need to eat earlier or later than your children. Alternatively, at any time you set aside to read aloud, just provide a small amount of healthy snacks for your children to nibble on, and keep their hands busy, while you read. Fruit, cheese, crackers, dry cereal, popcorn, and frozen juice pops make great snacks.
Yes, sometimes we can squeeze in those mindless chores! Children of all ages can certainly fold laundry, dust or sweep while you read. Although my children do not enjoy doing chores as much as playing with toys or doing a craft, they do appreciate the benefits later that day when the read aloud is over, chores are done, and they suddenly have a little more free time on their hands.
Whatever you provide for read aloud times, follow a few simple rules to ensure you get the most out of the activity. Keep a large container to hold these activities, and add to it whenever you have extra cash or whenever you see a discarded toy or activity that may actually interest your child again after a short absence from it. When it's time for reading aloud, have each child choose his or her own toy or activity, and have them keep a reasonable distance from each other; they cannot do an activity together. If they want to change toys or show you something they have made, instruct them beforehand to wait until you pause between chapters or change books. Most importantly, restrict these particular toys and activities for read aloud time to reduce the chance of getting bored with them.
It's so much easier for many children to listen when they are busy, so take a few bucks and peruse Michaels and Walmart or go online. You will be delighted by how much more enjoyable your read aloud time becomes and how much more your children will listen and retain when they have something to do while you read aloud.
For great suggestions for your next read aloud book, check out these articles:
About the Author:
Carren W. Joye is the author of Homeschooling More Than One Child: A Practical Guide for Families (ISBN 0-595-34259-0), Alabama State History Curriculum for grades K-9, and A Stay-at-Home Mom's Complete Guide to Playgroups (ISBN 0-595-14684-8). A homeschooling mom of four children and administrator of Outlook Academy, she has founded four successful playgroups, a homeschool support group, and homeschool co-op. For more information on her books and state history curriculum, visit her web site at www.carrenjoye.com.