It's not easy juggling more than one kid. It can be especially difficult to read to multiple children at the same time when they are at different levels of development and have different interests. So how can you make a read aloud fun and beneficial to several children at the same time? This post offers tips for parents or caregivers who have may not have the luxury of conducting a one-on-one shared reading experience.
One of the challenges that I have faced as a mother of a three year old and a baby is keeping both of my children occupied/entertained at the same time. It is quite literally a daily occurrence that I'm out with both kids and a stranger exclaims to me, "It looks like you've really got your hands full!"
As the months pass, though, I think I'm becoming better at being a mom of two, and I'm learning a few tricks to avoid meltdowns in the supermarket line and for handling two kids on the playground. With respect to all of the reading we do in our house, I'll admit that it has been more difficult to read to both kids at the same time than I thought it would be. The board books are "too easy" for my 3-year old, and she's read them a million times, yet my 8-month old rips her "big kid" books to shreds and can't sit still past the first page, not to mention that he can't sit still at all.
But, I'm learning how to manage read alouds with both children too, and I keep in mind that while reading to children of different ability levels can be a little challenging sometimes, it's also beneficial to learning. The child who is less advanced will learn from the interactions with the more advanced child, and the more advanced child will learn through repetition of concepts that he may have been exposed to already.
Below are 5 tips that I have for making the most of reading to two or more kids at once.
1. Elicit the older child's help. If you are reading a book that's "easy" for your older child, give him a little challenge by handing him the role of "reader" or "teacher". This tip works especially well if your older child has books that he knows from memory, or can even read a little. If your older child isn't that advanced, try asking him to turn the pages when it's time, or pointing out things in the pictures to make it interesting for him and feel like a helper.
2. Make it fun. Find books that are interesting for both kids. Flap books are always a big hit, as are pop-up books. You could even try to make up a game as you read the story (e.g., see who can find the most yellow things in the book), or have one child act out the story while the other one watches.
3. Take turns. As you read the book, ask your older child a question that is appropriate for his ability level (e.g., "What do you think is going to happen next?"); next, in turn, point out something in the story for your younger child, or ask another developmentally-appropriate question (e.g., "what color is the fire truck?"). This is a great opportunity to teach your children about turn taking, and both children will benefit from hearing the interaction with the other child. This technique also helps to sneak in a little one-on-one attention for each child.
4. Use a high chair or stroller, if needed. If you have a busy body who finds it difficult to sit during a read aloud or who is very fond of ripping pages and eating books, don't be afraid to use a high chair or stroller while you read a short book every once in awhile. It provides you with the opportunity to read a greater variety of books to both children, and it helps to keep both children focused on you and the shared reading experience.
5. Think simple, classic, and universal. There are some topics (like sharing) and concepts (like the ABCs, counting, shapes, and colors) that never go out of style and can be taught to a wide variety of ages. Books such as these are perfect for reading to a group of young children of different ages.
If all else fails, read to one child while the other does a quiet activity close by. If he becomes interested in the story, he will likely join you.
Reading to more than one child at the same time can be a little more challenging than a one-on-one shared reading experience. Keep these tips in mind to help boost learning and make it a fun environment for everyone, including you!