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Challenge: Reading Together

How to Get Your Wild 3-year Old to Sit and Read With You

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Everyone told me I should be grateful when my first born was a book lover. I had no idea how good I had it. By 6 months old, he was looking at books all day long. He took books to bed every night and woke me up at dawn every morning, books in hand. His adorable 2-year-old lisp would whisper, "Read these bookths, Mommy?" at 6 a.m. Not surprisingly, he was an early reader—and I never taught him to read. Looking at books for so many hours per day and having books read to him so often, he self-taught.

My second born was not nearly the bookworm her older brother was, but she was willing to sit still. And she loved puzzles. So that's how we learned letters and concepts, and now, at five, she is becoming more and more interested in books as she learns her site words. She is excited to be able to read to herself now, like a big girl.

Then #3 arrived. And boy was I unprepared. When my first son would sit quietly and read at three, and my friends' boys were jumping off couches, I would wonder, "What was wrong with them? Why were they so wild?" and when I heard they didn't like to read, I shook my head. "Maybe Mom should try harder," I thought.

HA!!! Karma got me—bad. My third child (second boy) is incapable of sitting still for more than five minutes. Books collect dust in his presence. Puzzles as well. His days are spent running, jumping, kicking, battling, and wrestling. Sit with Mom and practice letters?! Are you kidding?

So I had to adjust my expectations and methods of teaching quickly with this one. Gone are the days of snuggling on the couch and reading an Elmo book. This kid needs action and physical movement. All. Day. Long. If your child sounds like my 3-year-old son, here are 10 methods I've been using to get him engaged in reading. Or at the very least sitting, while I read a book near him!

  1. We read about his interests. He is all things Star Wars these days, especially the battle scenes. So for his 3rd birthday this past February, we bought him a few new Star Wars books. We've read each several times, and although I often tire of reading the Obi-Wan / Darth Vader battle scene over and over... and over, I have to keep telling myself, "He's reading!" and continue on.
  2. Related to #1, I often have to break up lessons or books. We might read a page, battle with lightsabers, and then read another page.
  3. Also related to #1, it helps him to connect to a book if he is "in character." Seriously. He will dress up in his Kylo-Ren costume and hold a lightsaber throughout the reading. He wants to feel like he is part of the story.
  4. We've also read stories based on movies or shows he has seen (other than Star Wars). For example, when he was in the throes of choo-choo trains, as most 2-year old boys tend to be, he loved The Polar Express. We read our Polar Express book so many times that the cover is tattered and the pages are falling out. That's the marker of a well-loved book.
  5. I've also tried making reading fun in other ways. He loves to hold a flashlight and point the light at the picture or letter I ask him to find. Recently we borrowed an activity bag from my daughter's preschool that was all about penguins. There were penguin toys, books, and puppets. After each book, I put on a quick puppet show and had the puppets ask him what he learned about penguins. He was much more excited to read another penguin book, knowing there would be another puppet show.
  6. Any way that he can move increases our chances of a successful reading experience. We have a book with the lyrics to songs such as "Itsy Bitsy Spider", and as I read, he can sing and move his hands to show the spider crawling. "Wheels on the Bus" books are also effective to get kids reading and moving as they imitate the wheels, wipers, etc.
  7. I set realistic expectations. This child is not going to read for 30 minutes the way his older brother did at this age. If I can get 5-10 minutes out of him before he's off and running, I call it a win. And I try again later.
  8. I also set the stage for the best chance of success. Big brother and sister cannot be noisily having fun in the next room if my 3-year-old and I are reading. They also need to read or work on homework, to show him that it is time for everyone to sit quietly and practice letters or words or shapes, etc.
  9. Any kinds of interactive books are helpful—books with noisy buttons, lift the flaps, or that come with some sort of interactive toy are fun for him.
  10. Putting him actually in the story is a great idea. There are a variety of companies now who will create custom-made books with your child's name, age, hobbies, etc. in the story. My son thinks it's very exciting to read about himself or see his picture in the book we are reading.

I am still learning as I go, as this is my first "reluctant reader." But these tips have helped me find success in convincing my son that reading is fun. Tonight he read an entire book about birds with me! I love Star Wars as much as the next guy, but it was a welcomed change of topic! The most important thing to remember is that he is exactly who he was meant to be. If he needs to catapult off of the couch before settling down with Mom to read a book, Mom needs to accept that. And maybe throw a pillow down first to break his fall.

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