Ask a Storytime Ninja: Storytime for Older Kids

Lots of great tips for storytiming with kids older than 3 this week! Have something to add? Please do!


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I have to plan an after school storytime with the ages from 3-7 and maybe a touch older. I have only done toddler storytime and I’m not sure if the songs and flannels will fly with the older kids, so I’m at a loss at what activities to do between stories and I also am unsure how to structure it so it’s still interesting for the older kiddos. Help?




From Sue:


I use flannels even up to age 7 or 8 when I have school visits.    The flannels I would use in Toddler story time (colors, counting, ‘5 littles’) I wouldn’t use, but I would definitely use full-story retelling, or a story like Monkey Face that has a buildup and punchline to it.  Kids this age like to anticipate outcomes and have the attention span to hang on longer for the ending.  The other great thing about K-2 is they will tell you when you’re not doing it right, so you can re-tell a familiar tale (like 3 little pigs) and make lots of funny mistakes and even have THEM participate with voices and sound effects.  If the crowd is even older, you can make it like a play with props and costume pieces.


Unlike toddlers, you can take advantage of them being able to sit and interact for longer periods.  Songs where they follow directions (Freeze Dance for example), repeat, or build (Going on a Bear Hunt) would work too.  You could even do more non-fiction stories and do show and tells.


From Lisa:


We run a story time for grades 1-4 after school.  While this is a little older than your group, we still use flannelboards and songs.  I also look for longer picture books, such as Cloudy with a  Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett.  Since this group should be able to sit, you can also work in some great nonfiction, such as Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy.  My favorite resource when starting this program was Cool Programs for the School-Age Crowd by Rob Reid.  If you can’t that title, then most of his professional reference books are adaptable to working with school-aged kids.  This title really helped me with my original plans until I had enough experience to come up with my own ideas.


The other thing to keep in mind when doing an afterschool program is that these kids just sat for most of the day at school.  You will want to work in some games, crafts, or activities that involve some movement.  We tend to work in a 10-15 minute craft/activity time where the kids can talk or move around, whether it be a scavenger hunt or making a pet rock.


From Bryce:


I definitely agree with Susan on attention span and silly songs!


“Ages 3-7” is actually a difficult to range to program for; cognitive development at 7 is much more advanced than at 3. Kudos to you for trying it out! Something that I’ve found that works with a range of ages is including activities that encourage team work, with older kids helping their younger siblings when needed. This gives the older kids ownership of the program and they’ll sit through the parts they might think are “babyish”.


I recently held a story time for older kids based on Bedtime Math (, and the attendees were families with kids ages 3-10. The structure worked for me and I would definitely use it in the future when planning storytimes for this age group:


1. Introduce yourself and list the things you’ll do at the program (this helps for all ages with self-regulation; they’ll feel a connection with you while also knowing that if you start with a book, you won’t be reading forever).
2. Read 2 short stories or one longer one
3. Release the families to complete one activity or crafts related to the books at stations (explain the activities first!)
4. Bring everyone back with one more book or song


This way, everyone gets what they need!


From Anna Francesca:


I absolutely agree with Lisa about kids who have sat at school NEEDING something different.  I believe in movement.  One that I enjoy is “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” where participants alternate sitting and standing every time they say “b.”  (An example is here)  If the older kids need more of a challenge, do it twice with the second time being quicker.  Another song that can be used is “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”, which, again, is way younger than what your seven-year-olds would do when still.  However, if you let the kids suggest new verbs that the group then does, they will gladly participate.  (For example, what does it look like if kids swim, jump, or crawl?)


Are your flannel board activities ones with enough pieces that the kids can each have a piece to put on the board?  If so, something that might work better for younger kids as a demonstration will carry to the older ones because it is interactive.


With the books, it helps to check in with your audience on a regular basis.  If they are looking at you and/or the book you’re sharing and participating, that is great.  If not, move on to something different.  This can be really hard if you’re in the middle of a book that needs all of the pages read to make sense.  Therefore, I suggest finding books where you can paperclip some pages together to give an abridged reading if necessary.  I also love to share Hervé Tullet’s I Am Blop! because it has no plot and can therefore be edited in a moment to serve patron needs.  However, it is imaginative and covers some basic concepts like opposites for little ones.  For a craft with that book, you can make “blop” puppets by copying the page of blank blops in the back, and having the kids color, cut, and tape their creations onto popsicle sticks.  Older kids can cut for younger kids.



  1.      Move!
  2.      Involve older kids with the opportunity to make suggestions.
  3.      Tailor books and activities to varying attention spans.
  4.      Stay aware of if your group is participating or needs a change.

Good luck!


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