Years ago, I wrote a post about reading aloud to multiple children. Back then, my reading aloud was mostly picture books and that post was focused more on reading to small children.
Now when I read aloud to all four of my children, it’s generally a chapter book.
I remember well the days of reading aloud to just my oldest daughter and it was pretty straight-forward to pick a book she would enjoy.
Now, juggling the interests and ages of four different children with a more than six year age span is a new kind of challenge.
Here are some tips for read alouds for kids when they’re at different stages and ages:
8 Tips for Read Alouds for Kids of Different Ages
- Pick books at about the age level of the oldest or second oldest child. Picking a book that appeals to three or four (or more!) kids all at different levels is tricky. I find the most success when I pick books that are about at the level of my oldest or my two oldest children’s level (currently that’s ages 12 and 10, so we read a lot of chunky middle grade novels these days). Although my younger children wouldn’t be able to read most of these books on their own, they’re able to listen to them quite well since you can listen at a MUCH higher level than you can read at this age, plus as younger siblings they’re used to leveling up a bit to keep up with older siblings (in much the same way that my youngest child at 6 is watching movies with our family that we wouldn’t have picked to watch when our oldest was 6).
- Every 3-5 books, throw in a book aimed at the level of the younger kids. The good news is that these are generally shorter books, so we can finish one in a week or less. It’s a nice change of pace to read something shorter and my younger kids love having something that’s aimed specifically at them.
- Let them do something with their hands while they listen. I stand by this advice ALWAYS because many kids (and adults!) focus better when they have something to do physically while they listen, but when you have multiple kids, it’s even more important because it’s so easy for them to start chatting with each other or bugging each other and both of those make it hard to have a great read aloud experience.
- Know that SOMEONE is almost always going to be having a hard time. The thing about multiple children is that you just have so many more variables. Someone is overtired or rambunctious or not into the book or can’t resist the urge to bug their siblings. That’s just part of having multiple children! When your expectations are that everyone is perfectly behaved, it’s going to be frustrating when that isn’t the case. When you have the expectation that there will be some interruptions or problems, it’s much easier to manage those.
- Split it up. Depending on your family situation, it may make more sense to read aloud to some of the older kids together and then then the younger kids together with their own separate group. I’ve heard from some families that one parent reads to one set of kids while the other parent reads to the other set of kids. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, so play around with some different configurations and figure out what works best for your family.
- Be willing to quit a book that isn’t working. Nothing will stall up a family read aloud like a book that no one is enjoying. It’s much better to bail on the book and pick something you’re all (or most of you!) are invested in. When we were reading Amari and the Night Brothers or Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM, we blew through those in about two weeks because everyone – me included – wanted to keep reading! Nobody wins when you refuse to quit a book that just isn’t a good fit.
- Know it will take a few minutes most nights for everyone to settle down. Almost always, the first five minutes of our family read alouds are a little chaotic. That’s just how it goes with five people – the beginning almost every night at our house includes so much moving around, interrupting, bugging of siblings, and complaining about this or that! But give it a few minutes and most of the time, kids will settle down – they’ll find something to do, a cozy place to sit, and get sucked into the story and then beg for you to read just one more chapter!
- Make it a pleasant experience. If you’re wildly frustrated every night when you’re reading aloud, snapping at your children, insisting that they sit still, or otherwise making it a tense, unpleasant experience. . . .don’t be surprised when no one really likes family read alouds. Keep it low-key, let them settle in and if it’s not working on a particular night, call it and try again tomorrow. Keeping it calm and pleasant will go a long way toward helping them have positive feelings about family read alouds.
Any other tips for reading to multiple kids when they’re at different stages and ages? I’d love to hear!