What do you do when you’ve got a storytime crowd full of babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and maybe even a few school-age kids too? This, my friends, is the beauty of a mixed-age storytime. At my library we call them Family Storytimes. Family storytimes are great because they allow caregivers with multiple children to bring them all together. We also know younger children learn from older children, and having kids of different ages interact can lead to some beautiful learning moments.
But we also know that trying to prepare a developmentally appropriate storytime for such a wide age group is a challenge. Or even just a storytime where everyone is engaged. I’ve been asked to share how I plan my family storytimes and ways to adapt things for a mixed-age group. You can also check out Mixed-Age Storytime Gold by The Neighborhood Librarian.
Planning a Mixed-Age Storytime
My planning for this crowd is very similar to my planning for toddler storytime. I stick by my original recipe of:
And I overplan. I always have more felts, puppets, and books than I could ever actually cover in 30 minutes. Overplanning allows me to go with the flow of the group and adapt to their needs. For example, if I have an older crowd one week I may be able to sneak in a 2nd book. Conversely, if I’ve got a younger crowd I may need to be up and moving more. I created a new planning sheet that I use for family storytimes. It’s an adapted version of my toddler storytime planning sheet.
Family Storytime Planning Sheet (Word Document)
As always, feel free to edit to suit your needs! Before storytime, I fill in all the boxes and shoot for about 80% repetition from week to week. I also use felt songs and rhymes A LOT, like almost every song, because it has helped the younger kids and ESL families participate so much more. If I’m doing a prop activity one week such as scarves or shakers, I’ll re-purpose one of the bottom two boxes. Again, I never get through all of this! Here’s a picture of my planning sheet post-storytime with checks next to the items I actually did.
Hopefully you can read my chicken scratch!
Songs and Rhymes for a Mixed-Aged Storytime
Here are some of my go-to songs and rhymes for this type of group. I’ve included suggestions for how to adapt them to different ages. It’s great to explain the adaptations to caregivers before singing or to model them with a puppet.
My favourite hello song for mixed-age groups because you can include actions for all ages. Touch different body parts for babies, clap and stomp for toddlers. Preschoolers love the sillier ones like blinking eyes, beeping bellies, shaking your booties 🙂
Great rhythm and the counting is perfect for babies and toddlers. Preschoolers will enjoy coming up with funny rhyming body part combinations. I encourage caregivers of babies to touch their corresponding body parts as we sing.
Bounce babies and toddlers while preschoolers row along with you. The extended verses have some fun animal twists that allow for more participation. Many kids will know this one already which will increase participation.
Ya’ll know how much I love Zoom, Zoom, Zoom. I highly recommend making these easy felt pieces to go along with it. I tell caregivers they can lift babies and toddlers, while the older kids and I practice our jumping. Lifting songs are great for mixed-age groups for this very reason.
If you’ve got a younger crowd, this is a great way to help them get out their energy while also teaching them a fun way to learn to stop. I like this one for it’s adaptability – you can bounce, tickle, jump, clap, etc. Whatever works for your group!
This song doubles as an action song and as a diaper changing song! Have the older kids get up and do the motions with you while caregivers with babies can move their arms or legs (if laying down) back and forth. I model how to sing it as a diaper changing song with a puppet beforehand to give caregivers a clear example.
Every week I like choosing three children to be our cool cats. Then we insert their name into this song. The older kids will have fun dancing, while younger ones can be bounced and lifted. The ch ch ch ch sound is so great for phonological awareness. I’ll never forget when a 13-month-old made the sound right when we finished the song and we all applauded!
I have a set of coloured fish that I put up when we sing this song. Toddlers and preschoolers practice counting on their fingers and making a loud “pop!” sound with their hands, while babies can be lifted into the air at the end of each verse. The simpleness of this song engages the toddlers and allows the preschoolers to sing along with you.
I love using scarves with my mixed-age groups. This is my favourite scarf song – watch the older kids throw them into the air or have caregivers make their babies “pop.” Before we sing this one we talk about what colour popcorn everyone is making – it’s hilarious and fun.
Another Get the Wiggles Out activity. Toddlers and preschoolers will be able to move around with you while caregivers can wiggle their baby’s thumbs, hands, arms, legs, etc. It’s fun to ask the kids for body part suggestions. You may find yourself wiggling your bum or your armpit.
I try to use puppets at least once during my family storytimes. They get the attention of any squirmers better than anything else I’ve tried. I like using this simple rhyme because I can talk about the power of surprise for baby learning. I adapt it by saying, “Little creature in my hand” and then I can use any pop-up puppet or any puppet and a blanket. The older kids like singing the puppet a nursery rhyme like “Twinkle Twinkle” when it’s time for the puppet to go to bed.
Practice pointing to different body parts in this body positive song. If we have room I encourage caregivers to lay babies down on their backs when we sing this one so babies can see their smiles as they sing it. Challenge older kids to think of rhyming body parts you can sub in for extra verses.
How do you play for a mixed-age storytime? What songs and rhymes do you use? I’d love to hear about your process in the comments.