I have three questions I ask myself when I’m about to embark on an activity that involves both my preschooler and my toddler.
I often get asked by readers – What are some activities that I can do with both my toddler and my preschooler?
I think the answer is limitless. It usually just takes a little tweaking of an activity to make it work. Its learning how to tweak the activity to fit both ages that takes a bit of experience.
My standard answer to these questions is usually along the lines of:
“Try out activities for the younger child. The older child will usually love to join in as is. And if needed, you can build up from that activity to add in learning elements or more difficult tasks.”
A good example of that would be the sticky sensory art project the boys all worked on together. It’s very simple. But the older kids did it in a more organized manner than my toddler did. It was completely a sensory activity for him.
I find that rule mostly true, but it can be limiting as well. Many of the activities geared towards preschoolers are also great for toddlers, just in a simpler form.
I thought about my process.
How have I handled this for the last four years, balancing two or more kids while doing our activities?
When we do an activity, I realized I have three questions I go through in my head.
Question 1: Capability
What can my toddler do for this activity?
Is he actually capable of doing the things involved in the activity?
I’m going to use this activity we did for Christmas as an example.
It’s a name learning activity. Its kind of like a color by number, but with letters and colored pom poms. George matched up letters of his name and glued the pom poms on the tree. I’m sharing it on PBS Parents in a couple weeks that I’ll link to so that makes sense.
Louis, who’s just barely two, cannot do all that.
So the question is: What can he actually do?
He is able to glue. He can physically do it. Maybe not very strategically…
He can place pom poms on the tree. Probably not in specific places.
He cannot recognize or match the letter. That’s out.
Question 2: Reality
What will my toddler do for this activity?
What will he do and what can he do are different questions with quite often vastly different answers.
For that same activity, with the previous answers, I built on it with this question: What will he do?
If I give him a bottle of glue, he’ll probably just squirt it all over the tree, in big blobs or make an enormous mess, wasting the glue, getting nowhere.
He will place the poms poms on the tree somewhere. He’ll probably play with them too, that’s okay.
Question 3: Strategy
How can I handle doing both?
With those answers, I build on it once again: How am I going to handle this?
This helped me realize that the glue was not a good choice for Louis since I wouldn’t be able to handle guiding him on how to use it while also working with George on the letters of his name.
If I wasn’t also juggling a camera to take photos of this activity to share on PBS Parents, I probably could have handled sitting with Louis a little bit to guide the bottle of glue. But the reality was that I had to take some photos too. I’m sure you have other things you’re juggling too while doing activities, such as a phone call, making dinner, an even older sibling doing homework, etc.
So, what could be used instead of a bottle of glue? A glue stick.
But the pom poms would probably have a hard time sticking to glue stick glue. What else can he decorate the tree with? How about sequins? That worked.
I should have ideally dissected that last part again and asked “What will he do with the sequins?” and I would have realized that glue on fingers and little sequins are hard to pick up and stick to something else. But it still worked.
During the activity, I went back and forth between both kids. Helping them along when needed. Stepping back as much as possible, because I believe that they need to do it on their own to figure it out in their heads too.
And just remember, it does get easier incorporating both of them as they get older.
Now with George and Henry, 4 and 6, they’re both capable of doing most activities. It’s just a matter of tweaking the level of learning that they’re at when we do learning activities.
More tips to do activities with different aged kids:
- Managing Play with Diffferent Ages from Childhood 101
- 20 Activities for Multi-Age Groups from Picklebums
- 7 Tips for Doing Activities with Toddlers and Big Kids