Mixed-Aged Storytimes

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:

Flexibility + Repetition + Movement + Caregiver Participation = A Good Time For All

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)

Family Storytime Planning Sheet (PDF)

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.

planning-sheet

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.

16 thoughts on “Mixed-Aged Storytimes

  1. This is so timely for me considering I started a family storytime at my library at the beginning of January, so thank you! I try to do a digital storytime, so my favorite opening song for this kind of group is the Barefoot Books version of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71hqRT9U0wg). Parents with babies help them do the movements while toddlers – school age kids dance. And we all love how the song teaches different ways of saying hello in different languages.

    I do have a question, though. Since we do our family storytime weekly, but are fairly new at it at this location, how do you advise building up enough flannel collections to use so frequently?

    Thanks again!

    1. Hi Valerie, thanks for sharing the link to that song. I also love all the different ways to say hello, might have to try adding that to my storytimes! To build up your flannel collection, I think it depends on a few factors. Do you have funds to purchase felt material or will you be buying them yourself? Do you have time during the work day to make the felt stories or are you expected to make them at home? It’s great if you can advocate for funds and time to work on a flannel collection. There are so many good reasons to present to a supervisor – it really is a key early literacy tool in storytime and they can be used to promote the 5 early literacy skills. When I first started making felt pieces I thought about my favourite storytime songs, the ones I would sing almost every week, and started there. So I made a Slippery Fish set and a Zoom, Zoom, Zoom set. I chose rhymes and songs with concrete images (so sadly no felt story for Roly Poly or Open, Shut Them). The other thing I thought about is how I could use the same flannel pieces for multiple songs or rhymes. So for example, my shark from Slippery Fish could also be used to sing Baby Shark. A set of farm animals is a good one to make first because you can use them in lots of different ways. I also took a look at the existing flannel collection we have here and sometimes I just pull pieces from different stories to use for a song or rhyme. For example, I started hiding different animals behind each house for the Little Mouse, Little Mouse rhyme and all the animals are taken from other felt sets – no need to recreate. I hope these tips help! It can be a slow and steady process.

  2. Whenever I head out to do a story time I typically feel like I’m embarking on an epic journey, because I’m carrying so much stuff! It’s so important to be flexible, and sometimes that means packing all sorts of extra books and flannels, just in case! Always be prepared! 🙂

    1. Maybe we get it from being teachers? I was always taught to overplan. I love the looks I get from people when I’m walking down the street with a pig puppet sticking out of my bag 🙂

  3. Lindsey, do you always start out with just one book for mixed storytime and hope for two? I have always tried to get in three books, with several (usually around 6) songs and rhymes/puppet participatory fillers, including our regular hello and goodbye songs, but lately I seem to have the problem of toddlers not being able to focus and sometimes big kids looking embarrassed at singing things like “Open/Shut Them” 🙂 I feel a little guilty, early literacy-wise, using less books and more types of play that will engage both age groups, but is that fair?

    I am planning on changing up my intro “speech” to be a little shorter, and to include a heavier stress on how caregiver participation is absolutely key in any storytime 🙂 Thanks for any advice!

    1. Yes, I start with one book and hope for two if the group is able to listen. I used to try for three and I found myself rushing through the books or losing engagement by the third book. The The Whole Book Approach really helped me slow down my reading of storytime books, so even though I only do one book most weeks it still takes a good chunk of time and discussion. If I did want to feature three books I’d use the following formula: Book 1 (longest, most complex story), Book 2 (call and response or participatory element), Book 3 (shortest book, singable or pop-up). When I have a toddler heavy group, I’ll introduce the 2nd book by telling the caregivers it will have participatory elements (and demoing them) and asking them to help their toddler build their attention skills by sitting with them and showing interest in the book. Ultimately we do want kids to be able to sit and listen for short periods of time and storytime’s a great way to practice that skill.

      I don’t think you should feel bad at all for using other types of play! Reading is only 1 of the 5 early literacy practices and we should be modeling all of them in storytime. You can even mention to caregivers the benefits of singing, playing, talking, and writing. I don’t view rhymes/songs/puppets/props as filler activities – I view them as early literacy tools that all work together with books to get a child ready to learn to read. And I totally know what you mean about the older kids looking bored sometimes – it happens! I ask them to be my helpers and show the little kids how to do it, but it’s okay if they just sit and listen too.

    1. Yes, I meant the songs and rhymes. I change the book and felt story from week to week but keep my hello/goodbye song, warm-up songs, movement songs, and rhymes pretty consistent. The first few weeks of a storytime I might even keep 100% of the songs and rhymes the same so we build up a repertoire before adding in new things. Just depends if I have a lot of new families.

  4. Thank you so much! Great reminders, excellent links, and I feel more ready to dive back in 🙂 I have The Whole Book Approach on hold and can’t wait to read it. I think I’ve been hanging on to the idea of reading more books at storytime because of being inspired by all the amazing books there ARE out there, and wanting to share them! But it seems storytime is not necessarily the time to push that envelope. (That’s why we have blogs and booklists and Readers Advisories and all that other good stuff, right?)

    Something else I’d be interested in is whether any other storytimers have seen an uptick in the use of cell phones during storytimes? We’ve been talking about this at my office. My new (out loud) mantra is going to be: Caregiver participation is key to a successful storytime. Storytime is a place to develop loving bonds with your children [thank you, Lindsay!] so cellphones should be quiet and away.”

    Thanks again!

  5. Thank you ladies, for all your hard work. I have been doing mixed-age storytimes for almost two years now, and I’ve used TONS of your songs, flannels, and planning resources. I have never posted before, but I would love other’s feedback in regards to planning and flexibility. I have many regular storytime patrons who expect a certain song to appear at a specific point in the flow. When I look at the block-style outline, I’m wondering how the idea of flexibility actually plays out during your storytime. Do you assess your crowd in the moment? In other words, if they are wiggly, do you immediately switch from a book to a movement activity, or do you go down your list of 80% repeated components, but make sure to include higher movement ones? I’m asking this because I’ve used your block planning sheet, but I always seem to go change back to a linear flow, as the parents seem to breath a sigh of relief knowing what will come in next in the program. Thanks so much for your feedback.

    1. Really good questions! While I do assess the crowd in the moment, there are some things that stay the same each week. For example, we always sing our two hello songs, then do our two warm-up songs, then read our first book. So the kids definitely know and expect that opening sequence. After that though is when I start to go more with the flow of the group. I try to get through the first book, though like Brytani mentions in her post, sometimes I have to pause and say something like, “Let’s all take a deep breathe, get settled into a nice seat, so we can finish the story.” Especially if it’s a toddler heavy group. The 80% is my goal but I don’t go down the list and check those things off first. I would say if a linear flow planning sheet works better for you and your parents, use it! There’s no one size fits all for this type of thing and you can still have flexibility using any type of planning.

  6. Our library is just starting up a Family Storytime and these tips are super helpful! Do you include a craft during your Storytime? Also, do you ever hold Family Movie night? We have alot of ideas….just trying to work out all the details and staffing!!

    1. Hi Cat, I don’t offer a craft during or after my storytimes unless it is a special one-off storytime. This is partly because my library doesn’t have funding for craft materials to support our 21 branch system on a weekly basis, and also because we get really big numbers at some of our storytimes so a craft is not feasible within our space. Some of the branches in our system hold Family Movie Nights. You need a good space and the right licenses for your country. We suggest searching the Storytime Underground Facebook group as I know I’ve seen people ask about those before. All the best to you!

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