Ask A Volunteer: Reaching Restless Readers


Welcome to the KOREH L.A. "Ask a Volunteer" blog series! Every month, our "Ask a Volunteer" blog post will highlight and address a common KOREH L.A. volunteer situation or issue using your suggestions and advice. Check out this month's scenario and responses below!

Jennifer has been reading with her first-grader, Lola, for a few months now. They have so much fun together, and Lola always makes Jennifer laugh. However, it is very hard for Jennifer to get Lola to focus on one task at a time. During their sessions, Lola is always getting up out of her chair and running around. If there are other students nearby, Lola cannot help but talk to them instead of reading the book. Jennifer loves talking to Lola and letting Lola express herself, but she feels that they are not getting enough done in sessions. Jennifer wants to know from other KOREH L.A. volunteers, "How do I keep my restless reader focused and interested in our sessions?"

Here's what they had to say:

"Beginning readers and/or younger children most often have short attention spans; they squirm, they're restless, etc. It tells me they are losing interest. So I try to keep it short and break up our session into 15 minute segments. At any given time we are reading two books: something easy (e.g. Dr. Seuss) and something a little more difficult. We put a bookmark where we stop. When we start again, I pretend I am not sure that is the right place. The child then tells me, ‘Yes it is... because...' and explains what happened previously. If the child does not remember, I go back a few pages and read them out loud, saying, ‘Did we read this?'"
-Armin S., Wilshire Crest Elementary, 14th year with KOREH L.A.

"I too have had squirmers, and it is very tough. They just don't want to be there reading since it is too stressful for them. I have had to take a few deep breaths before asking them again, ‘Sit still, let's just finish the page,' for example. I too don't know what to do at times. Distract them, stop and change the subject for a moment, then get back to the book so they can't weasel out of the work. Good luck!"
-Steve W., Enadia Way Elementary, 3rd year with KOREH L.A.

"A few years ago, I read with a first-grader who was somewhat squirmy. He always wanted to go back to his class because he felt he was missing something. The most time he would spend with me was 15 minutes. As the year went on, he grew more comfortable. I always brought books to read, but occasionally I'd let him choose one to read from the library shelves. If he wanted to talk about anything, we would just talk. Gradually I got another five minutes out of him and then another five. By the end of the year, we would spend 20-25 minutes together, and his reading had greatly improved."
-Barbara J., Sherman Oaks Elementary, 10th year with KOREH L.A.

"I've found it really helpful to offer a restless student discrete goals to work towards. For instance, ‘Let's get to the end of this chapter and then we can play a quick word game.' Sometimes just asking a student if they need to stand up and ‘shake it out' can be helpful too - sitting around for hours can make anyone antsy. Finally, perhaps you should re-examine if you're working with material of interest to your student. Take their restless behavior as an opportunity to engage them in a conversation around the topics that captivate their attention best."
-Elliot D., Castle Heights Elementary, 3rd year with KOREH L.A

"Many of our students are ‘restless readers.' Developmentally, they really can only sit still for as many minutes as they are old. So, a 7-year-old can only sit still for 7 minutes. Keeping that in mind, it is a good idea to change up activities every 5-10 minutes. Sit and read for 10 minutes, then get up, walk around, and talk about what you have read. Sit down, read some more, then draw a picture of what you have read, and so on. For the kids who really have the wiggles, bring them a stress ball to squeeze or a pencil with a pencil topper on it to chew on. (You can usually tell what they need by what they are doing: wiggling in their seat, chewing on their clothes, etc.) Any kind of movement built into your reading sessions will usually do the trick."
-Faith G., Tarzana Elementary, 2nd year with KOREH L.A.

Please leave us a comment if you have any additional advice for our "volunteer" Jennifer!

If you have a question or issue you would like to ask a volunteer and see featured here, let us know at Check out what our KOREH L.A. veteran volunteers had to say last month by clicking here. 

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