I have a question about reading to my young kids! I have a 4, 2, and 1 year old. The 1 year old hardly sits still to be read to, but my question is specifically about the 2 year old. He is always asking me to stop reading as he has questions about everything on the page, or wants to ‘count’ something, or he is flipping back through pages wanting to talk about what we just talked about. Again. What do I do? Let him be in charge of how we go through the book and what we talk about – possibly never finishing the book? Or ask him to wait until the end of each set of pages and then not let him turn them back? OR tell him to be quiet the whole time?! Any feedback and suggestions are welcomed

Q & A: Story Time With Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Olders (Character Ink/Donna Reish)

Story Time Questions

I treated story time much like I treated unit studies (or “subject reading” as Joshua used to call it when he was five!). Here are some basics for that first:

(1) Story time is a privilege that is earned…not something you automatically get to do (as were unit studies). Thus, there was a readiness that was needed in order to join story time: the ability to lie in the bed with everybody without moving too much, getting up, etc. (We used to do a two hour story time in bed followed by a two hour nap…even me! For real! Amazing, huh? Ray worked twelve or thirteen hours a day, and I seldom went anywhere…plenty of time to get everything done, read for hours, AND take a nap! LOL) This pretty much eliminated anybody under two joining our regular story time. If these guidelines were not met, the child just went to bed for his nap (with books in his bed and one side of a story tape), and he could try again later in a few days (not a bunch of back and forth and in and out)….this takes me to my next “basic.”

(2) We always taught to the oldest. Everything we did at first was based on our oldest two kids—the others could always join, but we emphasized our older kids for sure. This is often opposite of what families with untrained littles do. They often do not see how they can focus on the olders when they continue to let one, two, and three year olds be too high need. Just my two cents… 😉

(3) In light of always teaching to the oldest, we wanted unit studies and story time to be the most effective that they could be for the older kids. If we allowed a two year old (or one year old) to monopolize that time, this simply wasn’t happening.

(4) That is not to say that we did not do things with the littles or that we didn’t consider their needs. But we didn’t let their “wants” keep us from meeting our older kids’ needs (educationally, spiritual training, fun times, etc.).


Specifically Story Time

(1) Children who were not old enough (i.e. not “ready”) to join story time every day had their own story time. Those older kids that we spent so much time with and on cleaned the kitchen after lunch each day while I rocked, read to, and did rhymes and stories with the toddler. (This was actually the beginning of weaning for us—replacing the noon nursing with the toddler’s own story time!) This allowed the toddler to learn to enjoy reading without interrupting the olders’ story time. It also signaled a change in schedule, slowing down, etc. And it provided routine so that the toddler knew what was next. (After his story time, he got “dropped off at the bus stop” (carrying the bus stop approach to unit studies into the story time example)—his crib for his looonnng (three to four hour!) nap. (How else was I going to do a two hour story time and two hour nap for myself!?) Note: This was ten minutes long tops.

(2) Children who were old enough gathered their books. Whoever’s day it was did the following: (a) get the book basket with our ongoing books (Family Bible Library or whatever ongoing Bible study that we didn’t already do for unit studies—I did two a day besides devoes; chapter book; poetry or hymn books; longer picture books (especially our Answers in Genesis picture books, which were longer), nature book/magazines, sometimes biographies, but these were usually done in the mornings, etc.); (b) got two books from the bookcase or library basket; and came to my room with those things. Everybody else got their one book choice. The person whose day it was got to sit closest—and his books were the first and last read. (Who says you can’t make things special when you have so many kids or do things more “individualized”????)

(3) We always kept book markers (or “picks” as my kids called them) in our ongoing books and just picked up where we had left off the day before. Eventually, we got through tons of chapter books, nature books, etc., using this method.

(4) If a child was able to come to story time but necessarily for the whole two hours, we used the “bus stop approach” that you have heard me talk about with our unit studies. In that way, we would do all of the picture books first (shorter books with pictures like the Five in a Row books, children’s classics, whatever they picked. Then, just like in unit studies, the two or three year old would be dropped off at the bus station (i.e. beds for naps). More often than not, they would just fall asleep before we got to the harder books. If we did story time on the sofa, I would send them to bed for their naps when they were getting too fidgety or tired. (And they could have one side of a story tape once they got there.) Note: For unit studies, I did the same thing—started with easy materials then moved to harder ones. At a certain point, the littles could be dropped off at the bus station—but instead of going to bed for naps, they could stay in the room and play quietly on the floor, which they almost always chose to do. (At some point in unit studies, the littles would often have room time that we had set up ahead of time.)

(5) Then once the littles were asleep or in bed, we would move onto the ongoing books and chapter books. I tried not to make it a repeat of unit studies, but my kids often picked the creation books, nature books, etc. I did try to save the more fun books for story time, generally speaking.

So what does this mean in answer to your questions specifically?

(1) If your two year old isn’t ready even for the easy part of story time, I would do the short story time alone with the two year old and one year old.

(2) If the two year old is ready, but the only problem is the questions, I would consider any of the following ideas:
a. Let him choose the first book and tell him this is his “question book.” For this book only, we can stop a lot, answer questions, etc. (Oh…those interactive books that the two year olds had to do everything to…..brutal!) This is his story, and you can use it as a quality teaching time for him.
b. For the rest of the books that he stays for, tell him he can have one “excuse me.” This is one time that he can have you flip back, answer a question, etc.
c. Let him take the books that he has the most questions or that you know he wants to know more about to bed with him—and tell him after his nap he can bring the book to you for more questions.
d. If he can’t do the one “excuse me,” just let him be interactive on the first book only until he can handle it. (Always match privilege with responsibility in all aspects of parenting.)

(3) While you are trying to find what is comfortable for your family, always keep in mind the olders. Don’t let story time turn into something they dread or something that they do not benefit from by letting littles (even though they are amazing and sweet) monopolize it.

Hope this helps! I have to end with a cute story time story. When Joshua (our oldest) was around ten, he decided that he was too old for story time. (They never outgrew unit studies but eventually did story time.) So on the day he decided to not come to story time, I was lying in bed with four other littles reading away when I heard a noise in the hallway. He was sitting on the floor in the hallway listening. I told him he could join us, but he said he was just resting. Next thing I knew, he was sitting in the doorway. Then on the floor beside the bed. The, of course, across the foot of the bed! The next day he joined us for quite some time thereafter! 🙂

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