Planning for a wide age span

DogsPlanSpan_150Now and then, I hear from folks asking for advice about writing, publishing or school visits. When I’ve taken the time to write a long response, I like to make that time do “double duty” by posting my reply online where others can benefit. Recently, I heard from a person who has been asked to present to a huge assembly (500 students) with a very wide age span – pre-k through 5th grade (!!!) – so she asked for any advice I could offer related to the visit. Here’s my reply:

My goodness, that’s quite an age span. I’m sure you did see one spot in my Planning Guide (I think it was around page 6) where I made one suggestion of giving the younger students a “job.” But wow, when they want to include preschoolers with 5th graders…! Can you tell them you’d do a separate “pop-in” visit with the little guys? Some schools have half-day morning and afternoon kindergartens, so – to keep a wide mix out of the equation – I’ll often offer to do a quick “pop-in” for the half-day kids who wouldn’t mix well into an assembly that’s planned during the short time they’re in the school.

So, for instance, if the assembly for the youngest group (say, K-2) took place in the morning, I wouldn’t want kindergarteners in an afternoon assembly of 3rd thru 5th graders, so I offer a 20-minute “pop-in” to read a book to the afternoon kindergartners. (Or preschoolers, if I just can’t wiggle out of that age group, but I really don’t think preschoolers get much out of author visits. They’re just not old enough to get it. I’ve always joked that you could grab anybody off the street, haul them in and tell the preschoolers, “This is a famous author!” and they’d be just as happy having that person read to them.)

Twenty minutes is plenty of time for a smaller, younger group. Preschoolers and particularly kindergartners tend to be kind of shy in that situation, so you’ll find them easy to read to, but harder to draw out, answering any questions you ask them – although usually any grouping will have one or two extroverts who may help liven things up.

Aside from the wide age span, 500 kids is a LOT of students to crowd into an assembly. Last week, I visited super-crowded schools in northern VA, doing 2 sessions per school (2 schools per day), which necessitated squeezing 400+ kids into each assembly. And while I’m pretty skilled at holding their attention, if you add too wide an age split, this means that half the room at any time is likely to be uninterested, because you’re talking to the little guys for a second or your targeting the older guys for a second.

Instead of that crazy whole-school assembly, can you offer to do 2 assemblies and then the workshops? If two assemblies can’t be scheduled, you’ll need to find a way to hit sort of the middle age in the group. Aim your talk to about 2nd or 3rd grade. I’ve heard some authors say they aim at the youngest group, but I think in this particular case, you run the risk of alienating too high a percentage of your audience if you aim at the youngest.

Or you can ask to lengthen the assembly to, say 45 minutes, and tell them you’re going to talk to everyone for the first 20 minutes, and then the youngest students (preschool & kindergarten) can be excused. This will eat up some time, so you’ll only have about 20 minutes left with the older group, but at least then you’ll have a smaller group with a smaller age span left.

I’ve done that once or twice, although it’s far from optimal. Assembly & departure times tend to get noisy. During the time the little guys are leaving, you’ll lose the focus of your older group and it will take a few minutes to hit your stride again. You can continue to talk to the older group as the younger group departs, but frankly, they won’t be listening. They’ll be watching the little guys marching out.

Or you can just hang on and forge ahead for those 30 minutes. At least it’s not a long assembly. In fact, it’s kind of short. So with all those students to assemble, be sure to remind the coordinator to allow plenty of assembly time before the session starts. Otherwise, it will bleed into your presentation time, and you’ll end up with only 20 minutes instead of 30. Which — come to think of it — in this particular case may not be such a bad thing. 😉

P.S.: The planning guide I referenced in the first paragraph of my reply is the one mentioned below…

PlanningYourVisit_coverSmall_byKimNormanHave you signed up for Cool School Visits updates? Sign up using the form on the upper right side of this page, and you’ll receive a free copy of my guide, PLANNING YOUR AUTHOR SCHOOL VISIT, which includes sample programs and breakdowns to target your sessions to different grade levels. (If you’re on a smart phone, keep scrolling and you’ll find the form at the very bottom of any blog post, below any comments.)


  1. says

    Great suggestion. That mix would be a tough crowd!

    I’m a skilled presenter when it comes to adults, but have not been in front of huge numbers of kids in a while. Just asked a school to break a group of second graders into two groups of 90. Happy they agreed!

    • bigbosslady says

      Oh man, I love 2nd graders. They’re my “peeps.” (I guess maybe my sense of humor stopped maturing around that age. Ha!) Glad your hosts agreed to what works best for you!