by Amanda Hill
We’ve all been there. You’re trying to read to your kids when you see it, the wandering eyes and fiddling hands. If you don’t do something soon no one will have a clue what happened in the last five pages.
Here are some quick and easy tips for regaining your children’s attention.
1. Change something in your voice. The three easiest things to change are your volume, speed, or pitch. Assess what is going on in the story and change your voice to match. Speeding up your reading denotes excitement and building tension. Raising the pitch of your voice creates anxiety and excitement. And we all know the jump of surprise from a sudden increase in volume.
It’s easy in our loud and fast society to think we always have to take things up a notch to get our kids attention, but never underestimate the power of slow and quiet. When reading to my own children I’ve found that a whisper is sometimes the best thing to bring them in. Just try it and watch their little heads lean in close as they listen carefully to what you are saying.
A quiet voice suggests secrecy, sneaking, and the thrill of possibly getting caught. Slowing down your words makes each one more important and places greater emphasis on what you’re saying. Lowering the pitch of your voice can sound menacing and foreboding.
2. Add a sound effect. Just reading about a character closing the door and driving away may not grab anyone’s attention. But add in the sound of a door slamming, the rev of an engine, and the sound of it peeling away and you’re back in business. Sometimes your kids just need a little help imagining the story. Sound effects are a great way to do that.
3. Make the story come alive with a physical effect. Are ocean waves tossing your pirate ship back and forth? If you’re huddled close together, try swaying so your kids join you in being aboard that pirate ship. Is the earth shaking? Jostle the bed and make it shake too. If you have younger children that really need a break, you can even have them stand up and act something out. Sometimes getting those wiggles out in the middle of a reading session is what everyone needs.
4. Ask a question. You’re not trying to embarrass the child who’s not paying attention, you’re just trying to refocus them. Not all questions are created equally in this regard. When I first started doing this with my daughter, I realized all the questions I was asking could be answered by rattling off the last few words I’d read. And that’s exactly what she was doing. She still wasn’t really listening.
Try asking questions about how a character is feeling or what they might do next. Then help your child answer them. Never berate or embarrass, just use this as a small discussion starter.
5. Summarize or define. Sometimes our children’s attention is lost when they don’t understand what is going on. Don’t be afraid to stop and summarize what just happened or why it was important.
6. Know when to stop. As I have begun reading chapter books to my two young children, I’ve realized they can only sit and pay attention through half a chapter. That’s okay! We’re still progressing through the book.
Keep storytime enjoyable by always ending on a good note. If your children keep losing focus and just don’t seem interested, try again later. You won’t develop a love of reading in your children by turning story time into a struggle against the clock.
Amanda Hill grew up in the mountain desert of southwestern Wyoming. The library was right outside her back gate and so it was easy to fulfill her love of reading. After high school, she attended Brigham Young University, where she graduated with a BA in Chemistry. After having two children and living all over the country, she now resides in central California. Amanda loves to read, write, crochet, sew, garden, play the piano, go camping, and spend all day with her beautiful kids.