We have 3 children so they outnumber us. Part of our bedtime routine involves book time. Once upon a time, this meant Mr. Dad reads to one kid and Mrs. Mom reads to the other. That's not really an option anymore, so now we try to read one book to both of them. The problem is that one kid is 4.5 years old and the other is 2.5 (and had a slight speech delay). So, while one kid wants to read all the words on the page (and has the books memorized, so he knows if I'm short-changing him), the other wants to excitedly point out different objects in the illustrations and then turn the page.

In short, does anyone have a strategy for reading one book to two children of different levels at the same time? We are willing to invest in specific books if they would be more conducive.

Changing the bedtime routine at this point in our lives would be too difficult, so we are stuck with what works for us.

4 Answers 4


I might be approaching this as a programmer, but have you tried making the older sibling read to the younger one first? The best way to cement something is to teach it, after all.

  • 1
    The older one doesn't actually read yet. Although, he does sometimes "read" the books that he has memorized. But he's still at the stage of being read to. Nov 24, 2015 at 4:31
  • If I judge this from my experience, an older sibling reading (or "reading") is fine once in a while, but in the long run cannot compete with a parent reading. (That's even true for those of mine who by now have legally adult siblings which they love and cherish every visit.)
    – sbi
    Nov 24, 2015 at 14:04

I would strongly recommend that you not shy away from reading to both of them at the same time. The camaraderie that is built, as you work through, with both of them, to negotiate what you will do with each book - it is priceless. You could let each kid pick a book (or two or three), and then read both books to both of them, all three of you together, but making it clear which book is whose, so that kid gets to "drive" a bit more with his book, but the other still is there, listening and learning. This will teach them that being together and cooperating and sharing (their books and your time) is more important than just getting through the routine or checking off "reading" on the list of activities.

I have done this with my kids and we often read all together. At first it was each kid (and I have four) picking one or two books, Dr. Seuss kind of stuff, and we would read through them. As they grew older, we graduated to books like Andrew Clements' (author of lots of really good books accessible to younger kids but fun for older kids and adults) and the Chronicles of Narnia and Watership Down and The Ranger's Apprentice series. Sometimes, they have not liked what I want to read with them - one of them might complain about it being boring - but in the end you can just see the positive effect it has, as the family bonds are strengthened.

My oldest is now in college, but we talk almost every day, and my second is a junior in High School, but he recently told me I was his best friend, and I replied, in all honesty, that he was mine. They interact very well with each other and care for each other. That sort of bond is built on every little moment where you work through the differences and learn to enjoy each other. You could even point that out to your kids, talk with them about how they like to read differently and how they can enjoy each other's style as a break from their own, and they can also enjoy the wonder of seeing their sibling's uniqueness. It is pretty cool how each of us is unique and different, and kids can learn to see that as a positive, joyful thing.

I do have "dates" with my children, times when I take one of them and we go out for breakfast or lunch or shopping or catch a football game. But much more of the time, we value doing things together as a family, over separating into smaller groups. I come from a group oriented culture (first 16 years of my life), and I could count on one hand the number of times I had alone with my dad. I then lived for 18 years in the more individual oriented American culture, followed by back and forth between different cultures and the US for the last 15 years. I see value in both, but feel that the best balance gives preference to group times, with only occasional (once a week?) individual times with each kid. For daily routines like this, I'd definitely favor the group.

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    I agree that negotiating is an important thing to learn (+1). However, having many kids, this is something they have a lot of opportunity to learn from me. What is rather rare is that one child gets the undivided attention of a parent. Sometimes it feels like my children value this over everything else. (The older ones often schedule their time with me when their siblings are with their mother, even though they know that I have lots of other stuff to do when I don't have the wee ones, and they see less of me – because when I'm home, I have time for them alone.)
    – sbi
    Nov 25, 2015 at 17:38
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    @sbi - Good comment. Lots of value in individual time with each kid. I have added a final paragraph to my answer, to address this. I think culture influences our preferences on this, but having been heavily exposed to very different cultures, I feel it is best to prefer the group for a daily routine like bed-time reading time. That is, of course, just my opinion, backed by varied experience and awesome success with my 4 kids, but still just opinion.
    – user16557
    Nov 25, 2015 at 18:05
  • That paragraph is a very helpful addition IMO. :)
    – sbi
    Nov 25, 2015 at 21:29

I have a 4 and 2.5 year old, also, and sometimes have the same problem.

The younger child enjoys 'fact' books (picture books about trucks/dinosaurs/whatever - no plot, just either pictures of things or pictures with some text describing the thing), and the older one is still able to enjoy those; so much of our reading are those books. The older one tells the younger one what the pictures are, which is nice sibling cooperation (even though not "reading"), while I moderate and point out some specifics that the older one might not know. I make sure to mix in things that the younger one is interested with the older one. Even fairly "old" fact books, like some of the larger DK encyclopedia type books, are still able to interest the younger one.

We often will read the younger ones' books first, like the above, and then have him go to bed while we read the older one a proper story (Mouse and the Motorcycle currently!). Some days he'll be happy to go to bed while we go to the other room and read, while some days he'll prefer us to read the story to the older one while he's present (even if it's not too interesting for him, he wants the attention). We do whichever he wants, so long as he doesn't distract too much from the story.

Alternatively, particularly on days we expect more trouble (days with no nap, for example, or too late of a nap), we might read some during the end of playtime - say bedtime is 8, then read a longer story to the older one at 7:45. Then normal bedtime routine, except only reading younger-appropriate books like above after PJs and brushing teeth.

  • (+1) my 2.5 year old is not the easy to negotiate with type - i.e. if I tell him "as long as you don't keep trying to turn the page before we have read it" I will end up dragging him away kicking and screaming after the 9th time he has attempted to turn the page with repeated warnings. But I like the "little kid book then big kid book" idea. Nov 25, 2015 at 4:23
  • @yEz: One of my rules is that I never say anything more than twice: I once explain if I (don't) want a child to do something and I once remind them if they fail (possibly with explaining what the consequence would be). If the child forgets a second time, there's a consequence. Always. Reliably. (It is very good advice to think about the possible consequences before you set a limit.) My kids have learned to accept that.
    – sbi
    Nov 25, 2015 at 17:33
  • Not a matter of consequences with us: simply, if he is able to be patient when it's big brothers turn - he can stay with us. If he isn't - then we go to the other room so big brother gets his story read. (Okay, that's basically a consequence. But we don't treat it as punishment - Just acknowledgment that he isn't able to do it. )
    – Joe
    Nov 25, 2015 at 17:44

What I do with my younger kids (who are, admittedly, a bit older than yours) is to sent one child to the bathroom to wash, brush teeth etc., and meanwhile read to the other, then switch roles. I have explained the older one that, if he goes first, we are open-ended while reading, because his sibling can already go to bed when we read longer, and because he can stay up longer. That made him happily accept the role of the first one to got to the bathroom.

As a father of many I have to divide my attention between a lot of kids. The kids love the trading as a time of undivided attention and try hard to not endanger it.

Your kids are younger and probably cannot do the night time bathroom routine themselves, but since there's two of you, one could take care of the kid(s) in the bathroom and the other could read.

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    I assume the last sentence isn't really possible given the presence of a third (presumably, infant)?
    – Joe
    Nov 24, 2015 at 17:31
  • Having two kids in the bathroom is better than having two kids for reading.
    – sbi
    Nov 24, 2015 at 17:33
  • 1
    You don't know my kids apparently... ;)
    – Joe
    Nov 24, 2015 at 17:35
  • @Joe: May I quote that friend of mine who, almost 20 years ago, said that each set of parents gets the children they deserve? :)
    – sbi
    Nov 25, 2015 at 17:40

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