Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Expanding Attention Spans

"How do you keep the children's attention when you read to them? How do you make sure they are listening and comprehending?"
This is a question parents often ask me, especially about younger children who are just starting school.

My answer: "Let them do something while you read."I think sometimes parents have the notion that the children should be quietly sitting in chairs, with their attention completely focused on Mom in order to listen as she reads. That has not been my experience.

I have been reading to my children for 45 minutes to an hour a day since they were toddlers. My oldest daughter was 3 when I started reading chapter books aloud to her. I had read somewhere that reading aloud to children helps increase their attention spans, so I read to her even when she was wiggling about the room, playing. And you know what? It worked!

I remember one day when she was in 2nd grade the read-aloud was Ginger Pye. It is actually a rather long book for that age group, but I had just allowed the girls (ages 4 and 7) to play quietly as I read each day, not realizing that the 4-year-old, who happens to have learning delays, was even listening. The day after we finished Ginger Pye I showed them the next book on the list.

"Look! We get to start a new book today!"

My 4-year-old was crestfallen. "But! What happened to the doggy?"

She wanted to hear more about Ginger Pye! I was excited to realize she had been following along! Fortunately for her, we happened to have the sequel, Pinky Pye... so yes, we added that in to our Sonlight reading schedule that year!

Over the years my children have enjoyed a wide variety of "quiet" activities while I read to them. Here are just a few of them:
  • drawing pictures, often related to the story
  • practicing handwriting
  • jigsaw puzzles with pictures that tie in with what we are currently learning
  • coloring pages related to the book or historical period (Dover publishes some really great ones!)
  • Legos (When we were reading about Egypt they build a pyramid, with a tiny Lego person wrapped in tissue for the mummy inside!)
My only rule is that they have to be perfectly quiet, therefore they can't work on the same activity together-- otherwise they'll try to whisper.

I have been amazed at how much they retain of what they hear when their hands are busy!


  1. Totally. Legos are a great tool during Read Aloud time [smile].


  2. My boys love playing with Legos during read alouds. We'll have to try the mummy/pyramid soon. Great suggestions!


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