4 Tips for Getting Toddlers to Sit for a Story

Mom: Trying to read a book to her toddler son while sitting on the floor.

Toddler: Climbing on mom’s back.

Mom: Trying to focus while reading.

Toddler: Singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” for the seventh time in a row.

Mom: Becoming frustrated that she can’t read the current page.

Toddler: Trying to turn all the pages in the book as she reads.


Ah, can you relate?

Reading with a toddler can seem like the Grand Canyon of challenges. Little ones love to explore, move, and engage with their surroundings. But we CAN get toddlers to listen to a story! The key is finding books that encourage interaction. The best books for toddlers promote exploration, movement, and engagement. Check out these four tips to help you enjoy interactive story time with a toddler.

Sing & Smile Stories from Cottage Door Press

Tip #1: Sing

Remember our little scenario above, when the toddler was singing while mom was trying to read? Actually, that was a great idea. Let’s harness the idea of wanting to sing and express ourselves. There are great book choices that are based on songs and encourage kids to sing along.

The Sing & Smile Stories series includes titles such as Wheels on the BusTwinkle, Twinkle, Little StarOld MacDonald Had a Bandand I’m a Little Teapot. These books have a die-cut handle, so after you have read/sung the books over and over again, toddlers can carry the books with them wherever they go. Have book, will travel!


Tip #2: Move

Speaking of travel, let’s move on to the second tip. Toddlers need to move. It’s their way of exploring, learning, and growing. Just because a toddler is actively moving around doesn’t mean she isn’t listening. All that great book language we are reading is making it into those cute little ears.

Think of all the things you can do while you are listening to someone or something. I often play an audiobook while I cook or drive. Little ones can do something else at the same time, too.

There are some books that encourage kids to move things. Lift-a-flap books such as Little Green Frog and Little Yellow Bee invite children to lift sturdy flaps to reveal more information in the story.

Also, check out the new Turn & Learn books. Under the Sea and In the Garden include wooden disks with colorful artwork. Little ones get to turn the wooden pieces to answer questions about sea animals and garden friends.

And don’t worry if your toddler gets up and takes a walk around the room. That is perfectly normal. Don’t let it stop you from reading aloud.

How to Get Toddlers to Sit for a Story


Tip #3: Time It Right

Toddlers have short attention spans. Finding that sweet spot when they will be most attentive for interacting with a story requires a little trial and error. For us, we found right before naps or bedtime to be a perfect time for a soft and quiet story such as The Moon Sees You & Me. But be careful: If your toddler is overly tired, story time might have to be scratched. When a little one wakes up, it’s a great time for a silly, noisy, or active book like Peek-a-Flap: Moo. Snack time is another good chance to share a story. You have a captive and occupied audience. It’s delightful!


Tip #4: Ask Questions

We know toddlers love to show us what they know. Engaging them to show off their skills during reading time is a perfect opportunity for them to showcase their growing knowledge.

Sound books allow your child to follow along as you read. Throughout the book, there are picture prompts that show the toddler which corresponding sound button to push. Here are a few questions to ask to further engage your child with sound books.

Point to a picture and say, “What is this? Can you find the button that matches?”

When your toddler presses a sound button, ask: “What made that sound? Can you make that sound? Let’s make the sound together.”


Point ’n’ Match books such as Good Night and Zoom! Zoom! encourage verbal and physical interaction. Help your little one find the “match’em” items in each busy scene. Then make up your own questions, like these:

Can you find something purple?

How many trees are in the picture? Let’s count!


Try these four tips that will have your toddler moving, singing, and talking with you about BOOKS. I think you are up for the challenge. Happy reading!


Jodie Rodriguez has a passion for helping caregivers nurture our youngest readers. As a former National Board Certified early childhood elementary teacher and administrator, she has worked with thousands of families and educators to provide best literacy practices. She lives near St. Louis, Missouri, and now stays home with her two young sons. She is the creator/founder of Growing Book by Book.