Ever wonder how to do a preschooler activity with your toddler? Chelsie is here to share her tips along with examples adapting any type of activity with your child.
Hello everyone! My name is Chelsie from Skip Run Learn.
I am the proud step-mother to an 8 year old girl and proud mother to a 15 month old girl.
As a parent to two kids born so far apart, I often find myself in the position of having to adapt our family’s activities to accommodate both of my girls!
At a first glance, this may seem borderline impossible.
However, I have found that with a little creativity, anything is possible!
Jamie has asked me to write this article to help parents with 2 kids aged 4 and under.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a preschooler, but I remember roughly the types of things I had worked on with my step daughter when she was that age.
So some of this will be based off of memory.
But some examples, like the overall process of adapting activities, will be roughly the same.
When I am trying to plan activities to accommodate multiple ages, there are a few things that I try to keep in mind.
4 Points to Consider Before Adapting Activities
- My overall goals for each child
- Skill levels and interests of the kids
- If anything needs to be changed at all
- The overall spirit of the activity
Adapting Activities Based on Goals for Each Child
The first thing I like to look at when adapting activities are my goals.
What are my goals for both the kids I am doing the activity with.
Examples of Preschooler Goals
The list of potential goals for a preschooler is quite extensive.
Examples of Toddler Goals
- first words
- crawling or walking,
- scribbling with a crayon
- matching to like objects
- pointing to body parts
- noticing changes in quantity
For more information on determining goals for a toddler, see my post on starting a “toddler homeschool”.
Once you know what your goals are for the child, you can adapt the activities to plug in the concepts.
Let me break down adapting activities based on goals with this example:
Let’s say I am working with my preschooler on recognizing letter sounds and I’m working with my toddler on recognizing emotions.
I will use letters in the activity I set up for my preschooler and smiley faces in the activity I set up for my toddler.
In this example the toddler and preschooler won’t be doing different activities, but with a little adapting they have different themes as they work.
Adapting Activities Based on Skill Level & Interest of Your Kids
Now that we’ve identified the goals we can look at the next example for adapting activities.
Next I will usually look at the activity and determine if there are any parts of the activity that are simply beyond either child’s skill level OR unsafe for one or both of the children to do.
See the 3 questions Jamie asks before doing activities with a toddler and a preschooler together.
When I do this, I try to make it a point to not underestimate my younger child.
Toddlers, I’ve learned, are capable of a lot more than they can say in words.
However, even the most capable toddler is most likely going to lag in some skills when compared with a preschooler.
Let me break it down with an example of how I might adapt an activity based on skill level.
I know my 15 month old hasn’t quite mastered listening to multi-step directions. I know, because I give her the benefit of the doubt and try from time to time.
Consequently, I’m not going to have her “color and cut” a picture.
In fact, I don’t trust my daughter with even safety scissors yet ;) so having her cut at all would be out of the question.
So, as an example, I might adapt the activity to have her “color” the page/draw scribbles and practice holding a crayon. Meanwhile the preschooler colors and cuts a picture.
Determine if Anything Even Needs to Be Changed
Truth is sometimes my 8 year old and 1 year old will do the exact same activity with no adapting needed.
Frankly, sometimes my step daughter simply doesn’t want to be challenged by every single activity we do.
Here are a couple great examples of activities that don’t need adapting.
If I am making sensory sand for my toddler out of cane sugar and food coloring, the 8 year old is just as excited. Maybe even more so.
She wants to write in the sand, watch the colors mix, and use the excuse to taste a bit of the sugar.
I don’t blame her, honestly.
I’m one who loves a challenge, but even I like to relax occasionally and do something relaxing.
And sometimes Pumpkin, my toddler, is even able to do activities I had planned for my 8 year old step daughter!
For example in a hand print and foot print arts and crafts activities we rarely have to adapt them.
I will help my step daughter complete her craft, then my step daughter will help me to get Pumpkin to complete the art project.
This may not be entirely relevant in the world of hand and footprint art, but kids actually learn material best when they teach it to another person.
That means, if you wanted to really drive a point home, ask your preschooler to “teach” your toddler the concept she just learned.
If your preschooler just learned her ABC’s, ask her to sing it to your toddler so your toddler can “learn” too.
Keep the “Spirit” of the Activity When Adapting Them
Without this step, you are essentially giving your kids 2 separate activities.
For example, if the goal of the activity is decorate cookies, then that’s exactly what I will adapt it to involve both kids in.
If the goal of the activity is to teach the child to recognize a concept, like body parts, then I’ll keep to that.
Or if the activity is about moving a bucket along a string, I will keep the bucket moving on a string concept.
I try to keep as much of the original activity in-tact, however some activities DO require more change than others.
More Examples of Adapting Activities for Your Child’s Age:
Now I’m going to demonstrate a few simple examples of how I might change some of the activities found on Hands On: As We Grow.
In these examples, I will adapt one toddler activity into a preschooler activity, one preschooler activity into a toddler activity, and one challenge activity given to me by Jamie.
Example of Adapting a Preschooler Activity for a Toddler:
For my first example, I have chosen to adapt Challenge Kids To Drop A String Into a Cup from a preschool activity to a toddler activity.
In the original post, the children kneel backwards on a chair and attempt to lower a string into a cup.
This is a great fine motor activity.
Frankly, I could see myself enjoying this one.
Anyhow, right off the bat I can tell you this activity will need to be adapted for my 15 month old to be able to do.
At this age I tend to discourage her from standing on any raised objects.
So I would lose that element altogether.
I think if I were to attempt this activity with Pumpkin a few times we might be able to achieve the goal of getting her to put a string of yarn into a cup.
But there is a simpler way.
Here Is an Example of How I Chose to Adapt This Activity for My Toddler.
I chose to keep this activity more focused on fine motor skill than following direction skills.
So I substituted an ice cube tray for the cup and some wrapped soft mints for the string.
This is an activity Pumpkin is already pretty familiar with, so she did quite well.
After we played with the soft mints for a bit, I added in some Christmas ornaments that we found after all the others had been put away.
The ornaments have attached strings, which gives them a weighted dangle element so that they are easier to control.
I gave the ornaments to Pumpkin to put into the ice cube tray.
Of course, she thought it was more fun to have the dangling ornaments “make music” by swinging them inside the ice cube tray.
I don’t think she ever did actually drop the ornaments into the tray.
But with this adapting example she had fun and the activity still did allow her to practice her fine motor skills.
Example of Adapting a Toddler Activity for a Preschooler:
The next example I chose was the Bucket & Clothesline Activity for Toddlers activity adapted into a preschool activity.
I am, unfortunately, lacking all necessary materials for this one, including a preschooler, so bare with me on the lack of pictures.
In this activity, Jamie tied some twine to make a clothesline and attached a bucket, then let her toddler experiment with the set up.
Later in the activity she used clothespins to attach some ribbons to the clothesline.
In this example I am going to adapt this activity to be a little more interesting for an older toddler or preschooler.
I would attempt to use alphabet magnets to replace the ribbons.
Some letters may be able to hook into the line, while some may require some creativity to stay attached.
After you have attached the alphabet letters, I would send the preschooler with the bucket to walk from one end of the clothes line to the other.
BUT every time he comes to a letter he must ________.
Here is where this example of adapting an activity gets goal specific.
If your toddler is learning to recognize letters then he must “say the letter” if he is learning letter sounds he must “say the letter sound,” etc.
After he correctly completes the letter challenge he can put the letter into his bucket and go to the next one.
If your preschooler is like my step daughter was (and still is), then everything is better when she can see how fast she did it!
So after I know she understands the concept, I would add in a timer and let her try and beat her previous best times.
Jamie’s Challenge Activity
For my last example I was challenged by Jamie to adapt Can You Follow the Number from Start to Finish? into a toddler activity.
Things to Consider for Adapting This Activity
This activity has a couple of concepts at its core: number recognition and mazes.
Firstly, I’m not yet working with my toddler on number recognition.
But I am working with her on recognizing changes in quantity.
Next I’ll look at the maze aspect.
If you go to a store and look at a book of “mazes” for a preschooler or kindergartner and then look at a book of mazes for a 2 year old, you might notice a difference in the level of difficulty.
Namely, the mazes for a two year old may look a lot like drawing a straight line.
I am going to respect that difference in this example of adapting activities.
How I Chose to Adapt This Activity
So the maze I do with my daughter is going to be a straight line “maze” that focuses on changes in quantity.
Instead of having my daughter tape a straight line, which is beyond her skill level, I gathered a bunch of “one hump” mega blocks and brought them to the maze.
Pumpkin saw that I was gathering “one hump” mega blocks and gathered a few herself to bring to the maze.
I share this to emphasize the point that toddlers should never be underestimated.
She not only noticed I was gathering blocks, she noticed I was only grabbing ones with “one hump”.
She also saw that I was putting them on the maze paper and did the same.
I arranged the blocks into the giant squares I had drawn so that each square contained a drastically different number of blocks.
Something like 1 block-5 blocks-2 blocks-5 blocks-3 blocks-Etc.
How This Adaptation Played Out With My Toddler
Then I brought Pumpkin to the beginning of her maze and told her there was 1 block as she bent down to pick up her block.
When she began to reach for the blocks in the next square I told her there are “more blocks. Wow! Look at all the blocks, there are so many! Can you put all the blocks together?”
And I put 2 together to show her what I wanted.
She did not put the blocks together.
Instead she threw them behind her and moved to the next square.
I continued to narrate to her about the quantity of blocks in each square.
After we were done this example of adapting an activity, I kicked off the remaining blocks and started walking in silly ways through her little maze.
Pumpkin loved it and she began copying me. By copying I mean she worked on running and walking backwards regardless of which form of movement I chose.
And laughing hysterically.
This added a bit more gross motor skills to our activity.
But really it was just for fun, and fun is key with toddlers.
We learned, and we played.
As usual, the activity didn’t go “exactly” how I wanted but it was indeed a success and it ended with a happy toddler!
Doing activities with two different ages kids can definitely have its challenges.
But with a bit of creativity it is possible.
Just try to keep everything light and fun so that everyone can enjoy the activity.
And if things don’t go as you planned (and in my house they rarely ever go as planned) then don’t sweat it!
I guarantee you that your kids are probably still learning something (even if it’s just how to make a mess).
Do you have any examples of activities you’re having troubles adapting for your child?
Ask in the comments, we may be able to help.