5 Ways to Add Movement to Storytime

by Lindsay Barrett

Photo credit: FatCamera, E+ Collection/Getty Images

Many of us who love reading to kids think fondly of story time as a restful break from the craziness of a day with kiddos. (I’m raising my hand over here!) However, kids aren’t built to be sedentary. Plus, a growing body of fascinating brain research suggests that movement is one of the best brain boosters. Giving kids productive chances to move while listening to books can increase attention and engagement and improve comprehension and vocabulary learning.

Luckily, there are many ways to add movement to read-aloud time. Check out this list of teacher-tested ideas and pick one to try.

(These tips are geared to the classroom but can be easily adapted for home, too!)

1. Offer movement breaks
Being honest with kids about how movement can help them focus is invaluable. Set the expectation in advance that if you’re reading aloud and kids feel fidgety, tired, or have trouble paying attention, they can quietly stand or stretch at the back of the class.

Or, pause for a brain break at the end of a section or chapter. Keep it quick, like a stretch or movement routine that kids already know. Even better, stand up for a simple movement related to the book’s content, like pretending to climb, swim, or stir soup like the book’s character. (The more you do this, the better kids will transition from sitting to moving and back to sitting without going overboard.)

2. Give kids a movement job
Tell kids something to listen for in the book and a movement response to make when they hear it. They can raise their hands in a cheer or jump up when they hear a target vocabulary word. Or, they can make motion every time the main character shows a specific behavior, like helping someone or complaining. This trick has the added benefit of getting kids to listen closely—who doesn’t love a challenge?

3. Use movement to help comprehension
Pause your reading for a movement-related comprehension check. After reading about a critical event or concept, ask kids to act out what the characters did or use motions to show how something worked. Or, ask kids to act out the character’s actions and emotions as you re-read a key passage. You might have to model these behaviors initially, but kids will catch on quickly.

Movement can help kids make sense of new vocabulary. When you stop to talk about a vocabulary word, have students act out examples that show the meaning of that word.

You can also use movement to help kids practice visualizing. After an essential scene, pause for kids to stand and act out what happened between the characters as they imagined it. If the scene had two or more characters, have the kids pair up to act it out together, focusing on what the characters did and said. Again, the more often you try a routine like this, the better kids get at doing it and transitioning back to the book.

Asking kids to move around the room to show their reaction to a book is another excellent way to re-energize everyone while getting kids to make sense of the book’s content. Pause at a cliffhanger and have kids move to different corners of the room based on what they think will happen next, what a character should do to solve a problem, or which section of an informational book they want to hear next.

4. Experiment with book yoga
Yoga has many benefits for kids, from improving flexibility and strength to promoting mindfulness. It’s also a unique tool for getting kids to think about using their bodies to connect to a book’s content. You can incorporate yoga poses for kids as you read aloud a simple book or use yoga after the story as a reflection tool.

You don’t need a yoga background to do this. A quick search can help you learn poses relevant to many animal characters. Or, you and your students could learn a few basic poses together that align to common character traits, such as “warrior” and “hero,” and then decide which pose matches the text. Making up your own yoga poses is also a great exercise; a question like “What could a ‘jealous friend pose’ look like?” gives readers a new way to think about the story.

5. Extend books with classroom theater
You might think of classroom theater as a big production, but it doesn’t have to be! Take ten minutes to divide into groups and create skits showcasing different parts of a read-aloud book. It’s a fantastic way to get kids moving while revisiting a book’s content. Using consistent cue phrases to start and end a performance, like “Action!” or “and… scene!” can turn it into a fun classroom routine. You can vary the acting tasks you give kids, too. Creating alternate endings or continuing the story are excellent for promoting creative thinking!