Ask a Storytime Ninja: Same Theme, Different Ages

It’s a theme-y Tuesday! Great advice from our featured ninjas this week about using the same topics with different age groups. Not always easy to do! Have any more ideas for our asker? Leave ’em in the comments.

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The Question:


How do you deliver the same subject – example Weather to two different age groups?

Our library is starting to develop a toddler (18 mos. to 2 years) and a preschool (3 to 5 years) story time. Ideally I would use the same theme for each story time but I’m not sure how to separate that out.


The Answers:


From Lisa: 


Congratulations on expanding your storytimes to multiple age groups! I completely understand you wanting to present the same theme to both age groups.  Why reinvent the wheel?  The best way I have found to do this is to pull lots of books for your theme and find as many activities and songs as possible.  Obviously, you won’t use all the materials, but it’s good to have lots ideas to choose from so you can find what will work for each age group.  With the toddlers, use shorter books and lots of songs, fingerplays and movement.  With the preschoolers, you can use longer books and get a little more in depth in the topic, but still make sure you have lots other activities besides reading books.  You will probably find that the songs, fingerplays and other activities overlap between the two groups.  Also, remember DON’T FORCE THE THEME!  Some themes just don’t work for all age groups because of maturity and often times because there just aren’t good books on the topic. That’s when you throw the theme out the window and just do activities that are fun.  I always have a couple of go to songs that I can use for any age group at any moment because things just aren’t working.  Good Luck figuring it all out!


From Katya:


This is a great question, because a good theme is not only fun for everyone but can help guide your age appropriate choices for each age group. When I plan my storytimes, I pick a weekly theme and then apply it as loosely or broadly as makes sense to the baby, toddler, and preschool groups that I see each week. At my branch, we’re not overly strict about the age of attendees, and many children have siblings, so there will invariably be some kids who come to three ‘bear’ or ‘apple’ storytimes a week, but the variations and the slow accumulation of skills allows that to be as much fun as only attending one of three. For babies, the theme application can be very loose indeed, as it’s mostly for your benefit and the benefit of some caregivers. For toddlers, pick simple books on the theme, don’t push it too hard, and include lots of songs and fingerplays. For the preschoolers, bring in more complex books but keep all the songs that you picked and practiced, maybe adding a verse or a few more numbers to count down (with toddlers, most countdown songs start at only three or so). Our preschool storytime is also slightly longer than our toddler time, allowing more time for in-depth readings. I think of the theme as an ‘organizing principle,’ a general point around which all aspects of storytime can converge–sometimes it’s for my benefit only, and sometimes the kids get into it, but either way it seems to make transitions more smooth and planning more fun. I second the advice to pull more materials than you’ll need, and to be ready to throw it all out of the window. Also, pick themes that you enjoy–there’s no need to force enthusiasm on topics where you have none! Best of luck! Doing stories for differentiated age groups is the best crash course in child development out there, just take a breath, watch, and learn.


From Monica:


How fortunate you are to be able to expand your storytimes to individual sessions for toddlers and preschoolers! So many of us need to provide a well-rounded storytime for children of *all* ages (which presents its own problems and issues) so first off, lucky for you to be able to provide for a more focused group of attendees.


In terms of lessening your work load and not creating two independent storytime plans around the same subject matter for two age groups, I think you’d be surprised at how much you can overlap. Ideally, a preschool storytime will have longer, more involved stories and more complicated fingerplays and songs. BUT — many preschoolers still find much delight in fingerplays, songs and stories with a toddler-focused audience in mind. To that end, I would do most of my duplication around bringing toddler ideas to the latter half of your preschool storytime.


For instance, start by planning a full-fledged toddler storytime. This age requires a bit more care in terms of extending attention span and mixing up books with other activities because of the age. Then, take a few choice (or favorite) ideas from your toddler storytime and insert them into your preschool storytime. For your preschool storytime, put the heavy lifting (complicated, longer books and/or stories and fingerplays) on the front end of your storytime. Then, towards the latter half of storytime when even the most dedicated 4 or 5 year old can have trouble paying attention, insert the fun and silly toddler-focused activities and books.


You can ALWAYS repeat songs. Any age will enjoy silly songs, no matter what the theme (and you don’t have to stick religiously to a theme — mix in a few generic songs to keep it lively, and pick your favorites). Fingerplays can be “dumbed down” a bit for the toddler age, but again, preschoolers delight in even the youngest fingerplays (I still have many almost-kindergarteners who like doing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” even at age 6 because they feel like they are part of the “in” club and know exactly what to do). In terms of books, what I always try to remind myself is that it is *ok to abridge* a book if you really feel that the concept and illustrations would work with a toddler … but that there’s just too much darn text. I do this frequently and liberally. Then, that same book can be shared with preschoolers without the abridgement.


Hope this all helps — and again, lucky for you to be able to provide age-focused storytimes for toddlers AND preschoolers!

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