Consider the Mixed-Age Storytime

Typically, I have three storytimes per week. All of them are mixed-age and they’re all the same, just done at different times and in different places. This is not my favorite arrangement, but it’s what I inherited and it does seem to work in general for my two branches.

I have some exciting changes coming in August that will re-vamp the traditional storytime in my libraries. First, I’m changing the name from Ready to Learn to Little Learning Party. I’m taking away the Saturday re-runs of my Tuesday storytimes and re-creating them as ESL and Music and Movement storytimes. I’m also introducing a Baby Bounce storytime–the first in our system.

What about it?

I will report along the way on how these changes work for me (or against me). In the meantime, I wanted to share some of my experience with mixed-age crowds.

I see a lot of people asking how to make this kind of program work. I’m far from being an expert (having done this for all of 6 months), but here are some of the activities that really pull their own weight in a mixed-age setting.

Modified songs, action rhymes, and fingerplays. I do all of these things a capella at least a couple times in every session, but I switch them up. I love to do Open, Shut Them as an opening song, but then I ask the kids to do it faster and faster. That makes it easy for new people to catch on and it also keeps the attention of my older kids. I do the same for things like The Itsy Bitsy Spider, too. Or instead of speeding up, I might tell the kids to listen carefully and then freeze on a word.

Laurie Berkner. Kids of all ages love her music– even the slow, easy songs like Moon, Moon, Moon.

Silly Dancing. Especially when school is out and I have some older kids, I’ll do silly dances like Happy by Pharrell or I Like to Move It from Madagascar. Hakuna Matata is another great one, or let kids blow bubbles to Frozen’s Let It Go.

Narrative Tales. Instead of reading a book, try storytelling from memory. I’ve done draw and tell stories and easy flannel stories like Monkey Face. Something about this kind of storytelling really grabs the kids, and I think it’s because you’re making it your own. You’re more free to add facial expressions and voices when you’re not focused on reading text sideways or upside down.

Guessing Game Apps. I love the entire Peekaboo line of apps from Touch and Learn. You hear the sound of something before you see what it is and all of the kids love guessing what it is. They invite curiosity and imagination and they may even teach new vocabulary to little ones who haven’t seen or heard something like a guinea pig before. (Here’s one of them:

Shorter time frame. I’m learning that 25-30 minutes is often all you get when you have a lot of different ages. I used to try to stretch anyway to 40-ish minutes, but I’ve totally abandoned that. Instead, I add playtime to a short craft to lengthen the program for those parents/caregivers who want to hang out.

Ask adults to engage the kids. I didn’t often give much of a spiel before storytime until my numbers doubled this summer. With more and more kids of varying stages of development, things were getting sloppy and loud. After a couple sessions like this, I started telling parents straight up. This is what my spiel sounds like now:

“I want to welcome all of my newcomers to storytime. I’m so glad you can come and learn with us today. As we can all see, there’s quite a few of us now and there’s a big spectrum of ages here. When there’s so much difference in where the kids are developmentally, it means there’s more opportunity for kids to get bored. I wish I could keep everyone engaged and entertained for the entire storytime, but unfortunately, I just can’t. That’s why I really need your help. You know what your child likes and what she can understand, so you know how to keep her interested when something is above or below her interest. If you’re physically able, I would love it if you could join your child and me on the storytime rug and help me engage your child by talking to them about our activities.”

Then I give them a couple quick examples of dialogic reading and off we go. It has helped TREMENDOUSLY and I think I see parents and grandparents taking more stake in their children’s learning.

So those are my methods. There’s not much of a secret sauce factor, but it works out for me.

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