The easiest way for children to listen to audiobooks (or a grown-up reading aloud!) is to give them something to do with their hands. Here are more than twenty fun activities for kids to do while they listen – you’ll be amazed at how well they can absorb and retain when their hands are busy!
Whenever I talk about my children listening to audiobooks, I get tons of questions about what exactly they do while they listen.
Are they just sitting quietly on the couch staring into space?
Most children (and let’s be honest, adults too!) can listen better if they have something to do with their hands while they listen, whether that’s to an audiobook or to a grown-up reading aloud to them.
I have zero expectations of my children paying attention for long periods of time without some fun activities to keep their hands occupied, and I’m really grateful that my mom was the same way.
I have so many happy memories of my mom reading to my siblings and me at bedtime while we painted our nails or braided each others’ hair.
In fact, my mom could USUALLY be convinced to read an extra chapter if we’d paint her toenails (my girls also now know that they can get me to read an extra chapter if they’ll brush and braid my hair).
Even in high school, I remember my mom reading Jane Eyre aloud to me while I filled in pages of the Gray’s Anatomy coloring book that my anatomy teacher had assigned.
It’s possible that I think of the veins and arteries in the human arm every time I think of Mr. Rochester. I’ll never tell.
Here are some of our very favorite activities for toddlers and elementary schoolers that keep them listening for long periods of time.
And, of course, these are great indoor activities for kids whether or not you’re reading aloud or listening to audiobooks. Pull them out when you’re looking fun activities for kids on a rainy day or snow day or when you need to burn up a little time before dinner or bedtime.
However you use them, I hope they’ll be fun activities you’ll all enjoy!
Fun Activities for Kids While They Listen
1. Paint by Sticker.
I discovered these books a couple of years ago, and we’re all obsessed with them. They’re basically a color-by-number book, but you put stickers on like a mosaic in the correct spots. They’re a little tricky for toddlers but perfect for elementary schoolers.
Whether it’s just a big bin of DUPLOs or a small LEGO kit, this is the perfect activity to keep your hands busy. The DUPLO set we bought at a garage sale for 25 cents more than seven years ago is still going strong, four babies later.
I keep all the coloring books in a bin and I let them use my very special markers and they could literally listen for two straight hours while they color.
About four years ago, I bought a tiny little white board at Goodwill and my girls STILL love using it to doodle on. We also have a big chalkboard I bought for about $10 at Home Depot and I’ll just put it on the kitchen table and they can all sit in a row and draw.
My sister-in-law bought us an off-brand version of these for Christmas a couple of years ago and I’m pretty sure they’ve been played with at least four times a week since then. I know sometimes the off-brand versions get a bad rap, but we’ve had no trouble with ours at all, even with heavy use!
6. Finger Looms
When we were on a cruise, my mom bought each of the girls one of these and it’s hot pad heaven over here.
One crochet needle and a skein of yarn and my girls are happily crocheting a chain for days.
I pick up inexpensive sheets of stickers whenever I find them and then let Star and Ani go to town sticking them all over paper. It’s really one of the best activities for toddlers ever. As long as you can manage to recycle the paper without them noticing. . . .
9. Water Painting
I love the suggestion from Sarah Mackenzie of Read Aloud Revival to just give your children a paintbrush and cup of water and let them paint the picnic table or the sidewalk. Brilliant.
10. Water Beads
This was the NUMBER ONE most popular item on my $5 gift guide this year and when I gave a set to the girls for Christmas, it was ridiculous how fun they are. I could just play with a bowl of them for 20 minutes even without someone reading aloud to me.
11. Water Wow books
I bought each of the girls one of these for Christmas and they have been a huge hit. They don’t last forever, but they’re so inexpensive that even if you only get a couple of months of use out of them, it’s still a smoking deal.
I’m pretty sure Ella has logged at least 250 hours of puzzle doing over the past few years as she listens to audiobooks. Ravensburger are my favorite, and sometimes I’ll even do them on my own after the girls are in bed if I’m in the middle of a good audiobook and I need some downtime.
13. Play Dough
As long as you don’t eat it, this is a one of the most fun activities for kids. Or maybe it’s the eating it that makes it one of the most fun activities for kids.
Whether you get a workbook (I have several friends who RAVE about this one and this one is designed by a friend of mine and it’s been wildly popular!) or just print out some lettering sheets or freehand it, this is the perfect time to practice!
15. Nail Painting
I’m not the kind of low-key mom who would let my children paint their nails on the carpet, but I’m happy to sit on the bathroom floor and read to them or let them listen to an audiobook while they paint their nails all sorts of lurid rainbow shades.
16. Braiding Hair
Whether it’s practicing on a bunch of yarn, a doll, a sister or yourself, there’s no better time to learn to french braid or do a fish tail or just stick every hair bow you own in your mom’s hair (I do not, of course, speak from experience here. . . .).
Okay, this one isn’t an indoor activity for kids (unless you enjoy cleaning sand off every indoor surface), but I bought a 20 pound bag of colored sand last year for about $6 and my girls LOVE playing in it on the back patio.
A cheap bag of beads and some pipe cleaners is a perfect activity for toddlers, and yarn or string is great for older kids. We also have a set of these Pop Arty beads sets and my girls spend hours snapping them together, making jewelry and then breaking them apart again (like every good toy we own, this was a gift from Bart’s sister who has the best taste in children’s gifts in the world).
19. Drawing books
I couldn’t keep the drawing books on the shelves when I was a librarian – every kid is OBSESSED with these. Check if your library has them.
20. Cross Stitching
I loved a simple cross stitch kit when I was a kid – it’s great fine motor skills practice, plus it’s just one of those fun activities that’s really gratifying for kids.
21. Lacing Cards
When I taught nursery at church, this was one of the few toys I actually wanted to play with. Anyone else think these are really addicting?
22. Perler Bead Sets
My girls can work on these forEVER. Sometimes I iron them for them, but more often, they just dump the beads back in the container and start over. (If you’re wondering if there are many perler beads in the carpet of their bedroom, the answer is yes). Plus, they’re so affordable.
This definitely is on the older end, but grab some origami paper and a simple origami book (this one is under $4 and ships free with Amazon Prime) and let them at it. This is a fun activity for kids while they listen because there is plenty of time and no pressure to be quick to figure it out!
Looking for more information about listening to children’s audiobooks? These posts might help you out!
- 8 Reasons to Try Audiobooks with Your Children
- 10 Favorite Audiobooks for Elementary Schoolers
- Devices for listening to audiobooks with children
- Audio Story Collections for Toddlers
Paige Flamm says
These are all awesome ideas, and can be equally useful for general conference this weekend!
Ramya Rajiv says
This is a great post !
Janssen Bradshaw says
I’m so glad to hear it! Thanks a million!
Ooh, this is so good! And now you’ve inspired me to walk around my house and make my own type of list from what we already have. Also, my daughter turns six next month and I added perler beads, the origami book and that bead set to my Amazon cart. You win at marketing, ha ha!
Janssen Bradshaw says
It’s the part where I talked about how great it is to walk across carpet covered in perler beads, wasn’t it?? Ha!
I love all of these ideas so much, thank you! I would love to hear about how you keep stuff like perler beads and all the art kits organized. Do they have free access?
This is SO TIMELY. Thank you thank you! I’d also like to request a post from your sis-in-law, the toy maven, about her favorite toys. With 3 under 3 I only want to accumulate toys that will (likely) be a hit.
I have a weird question – how do you dispose of the water beads?
Janssen Bradshaw says
I just let them dry out and then throw them away!
I have my kids clean the toy room while they listen to audiobooks, these activities are definitely more fun. Haha!
Heather Hawley says
Love these suggestions! My 3 daughters and I LOVE audiobooks. Another suggestion I would add is letting them sew or cut up old fabric to make dolls clothes (if they are big enough to handle a needle or scissors). Old t-shirts work great as the knit fabric is forgiving and doesn’t unravel.
I have used Audible off and on and the Libby app, but recently discovered Scribd. Have you encountered the issue where books become unavailable until your monthly renewal date after several books have been listened to? Any tricks to get around it?
Love these ideas! Yes – keeping little fingers busy multiples the time and it’s amazing their retention and understanding 🙂
Oh my gosh, this list is amazing! Now that we’re in summer part II And still not really able to go out a lot I’m going a little nuts. I recently started enforcing “quiet time” every afternoon and my kids are not loving it. I just downloaded a bunch of story collections on Libby (Recommended by you) and am now gathering some of your ideas for activities. Thank you so much! Tomorrow’s quiet time is going to be great.
What great ideas! I like to work on Extreme Dot-to-Dot puzzles and word searches while listening to my favorite stories. I will have to try some of your tricks with my kids and myself!
My mom totally read Jane Eyre to me in High School as well! How funny!