Keeping Hands Busy and Minds Engaged During Read-Alouds

Homeschooling mothers sometimes find it difficult for their children to sit still during read-alouds.  My advice is to just quit trying!  Now, I don’t advocate giving up read-alouds, but I do recommend giving up on making children sit still during read-aloud sessions!
I have antsy hands. My children do too, especially my boys. It is hard for any of us to just sit and listen to somebody read or even to just sit and watch an educational video. Regardless, I utilize read-alouds and educational videos regularly as part of our school day.

How do I balance antsy hands with my desire to include read-alouds and educational videos in our school days?

I do not require my children (or myself) to sit completely still and just listen. I provide a wide variety of quiet activities that can be done during read-alouds or educational videos for my children. In our homeschool, busy hands help my energetic boys to focus on a book or video. Busy hands help my daughter and I to be productive and multi-task during our school days.

A wide variety of quiet activities can be pursued during read-alouds, depending on the age and skills of your children.  For example, my teenage daughter often knits during our read-alouds and educational videos.  One winter, she knitted a multitude of beautiful hats for Christmas presents.  Lately, she has been knitting baby hats for a local pregnancy crisis center.

I am usually the one reading the read-aloud book but if we’re watching an educational video, I usually keep my hands busy with cutting. Yes, cutting.  We use lapbooks as part of our studies, so I usually have mini-books that can be prepared ahead of time.

My boys (10 and 12), on the other hand, engage in a wide range of quiet activities during read-alouds and educational videos.

Modeling with Sculpey III clay

Sculpey III is a wonderfully easy, non-messy clay perfect for making an infinite variety of imaginative creations – think Play-Doh for older children.  Finished projects can be baked in the oven to harden them.  My children have been sculpting with Sculpey III for years now and they still enjoy the creative process.  To get your children’s creative juices flowing, I recommend the Sculpey website and books like The Incredible Clay Book.

If you have younger children, Play-Doh or homemade play-clay would be a perfect quiet activity during read-alouds.

Patterning with Perler Beads

Perler beads are fun and relatively inexpensive. After the pattern is created on the pegboard, an adult covers the pattern with the paper included in any Perler bead kit and irons it according to the directions. The beads fuse together and make a small piece of art. Endless patterns can be found on the internet for everything from food to holiday themed pieces to animated characters and video game favorites. Our favorite site for Perler bead patterns is Making Friends.

Perler beads also makes a line of Biggie Beads for younger children.

Building Blocks
A wide variety of different building blocks could be used to keep hands busy and minds engaged. My youngest enjoys building different patterns with a pegboard block kit. While both of my boys enjoy building with Legos, we have found that building with Legos is too noisy during read-alouds and videos. The digging through the box of Legos sounds are simply too distracting.
My oldest son particularly enjoys Kapla blocks which he first discovered at our local Science Center.  Kapla blocks are very quiet and can be used to construct a wide variety of amazing structures.
I highly recommend this incredible kit for keeping little hands busy for long stretches of time. Using the blocks, a child builds a three-dimensional structure using the patterns. Some of the patterns are VERY challenging! Of course, a child can also use the blocks for creative building of their own design as well.


Educational Coloring Books
My very favorite educational coloring books are from Edu-Press, the Color and Learn series. My boys don’t choose to color as often as they did when they were younger, but coloring is still an activity they enjoy sometimes during read-alouds and educational videos.
Pony-Bead Creations

I keep a basket of pony beads, organized by color, and string available to use during read-aloud time in the living room.  Our favorite website for pony bead patterns is Beadie Critters Collection.  There are hundreds of free patterns available at Beadie Critters Collection organized by theme.  So far, Duncan has made a whole bag of bead creations and given away many! Younger children can be kept busy during read-alouds with a wide variety of simple beading activities using large beads and string.
Lanyard Creations
Crafting with lanyard is quiet, non-messy, and easily portable.  My older son, Mason, has been focusing on making lanyard creations.  He started out making very simple lanyard key chains but has progressed to making some really incredible lanyard creations!
If you have a child who might enjoy making lanyard key chains, Mason recommends watching the tutorials at Laneyards.  He also recommends starting with the square,circle, or triangle and then trying harder knotting techniques after mastering those.
So, do you have any good ideas for quiet activities that are appropriate during read-alouds and educational videos?  We’re always on the look-out for more ideas for the busy hands around our house!

For the 2011-2012 school year, Samantha will be homeschooling a (gasp) first-year high school student, a 7th grader, and a 5th grader.  All three of her children swim competitively so when she’s not busy at home, she’s busy at a pool!  Samantha blogs about homeschooling and family life at To Be Busy At Home.
Angie Kauffman
Angie, a domestically challenged nerd and mom of three very fun kids, is the founder of Real Life at Home.  Angie also listens to music every chance she gets, writes eBookspodcastsloves Pinterestdocuments the little moments in life on Instagram, and occasionally sleeps.


  1. says

    Great ideas! My kids are older now, but my middle son was one who HAD to be moving in order to pay attention when he was young. If I asked him to sit perfectly still and listen, then he had to concentrate so hard on sitting still that he couldn’t listen to what I was reading. But if I allowed him to color or build with blocks or roll a tennis ball across the floor, then he could focus on what he was hearing. Sketchpads, black Flair pens or Sharpies, and Prismacolor colored pencils were good for doodling/drawing during read-alouds. Also hand exercisers – either the little squishy balls or the spring-type – were helpful sometimes.

  2. says

    I love these ideas! I’m ordering some modeling beeswax for my oldest and I was wondering what I could use with the 3 yr old to keep her quiet & busy during read-a-louds, because I think the beeswax might be too hard for her, even if I warm it first. Why didn’t I think of play dough? Ha! Maybe because I need to make a fresh batch. :)

  3. Richelle says

    Great ideas! I run a small preschool with a class of six 2 year olds and a class of eight 3 year olds. I have found that they respond well with stuffed beanine baby bears or stress balls. With the bears, they have somebody to snuggle & to help “keep quiet” during the story. The stress balls give fidgeting fingers something to occupy them.

  4. says

    My daughter knits, too! We also like puzzles, playdoh, legos, train sets, and building blocks. We use Sonlight, so there’s lots of read-aloud time.

    Thanks for the new ideas!

  5. says

    I always had a problem with this until I understood my boys just couldn’t help it… I have another addition to what helps my boys… Snack – Something to chew on maybe fruit or crackers while Im reading too!! We enjoy play doh and knitting during as well!! Great ideas to help me out!