Family Game Time with Small Children & Toddlers: Bridging the Gap

Who has two little children and finds it hard to navigate ways to play with them together?  I’m going to give you some activities using two toys that I find a lot of families have!  They are also two toys I have used in therapy sessions for a range of ages by adapting them!  Because, as most parents know, we make plans…and then our 4 or 5-year-old wants to play with a “baby” toy their younger sibling is using (it’s not a baby toy!).  These activities are developmentally beneficial for 1-2 years old, as well as siblings 4-6 years old!  It is important to recognize that Theory of Mind (our ability to share another’s perspectives and thoughts) doesn’t emerge/develop until around five years of age. “Terrible Twos” should really be called “Thinking of only ME Twos” because that “we” mindset just hasn’t developed yet!  However, there are great ways to introduce them to it, and reinforce those “thinking of others” moments when they occur!   Here are some ways to bring everyone together, with just one toy, and 5-10 minutes!

Coin Piggy Bank OR Shape Sorter:  These toys are great for fine motor skills, color identification, number identification, shape identification, requesting help, turn taking, following directions, and so much more.  Honestly, you really don’t even NEED to turn on the Piggy Bank.  Here are my ideas if you have siblings in the age ranges of one child age 1-2 years and another child age 3-6 years of age.

  1. First things first! It can be really helpful to talk about a “group plan”.  I use this in sessions from Social Thinking, and it helps keep things on track! Explain how excited you are to play all together as a “group” and that together you are going to set up the game, play (with each person’s roles), and clean up.  Talk about how part of the group plan is taking turns and OFFERING to help each other.   Another part is “activating your waiting systems” when it is someone else’s turn (this is specifically for your older kiddo!)  I like to have children pretend they have a button on their “brain” or top of their head that they press to “activate the waiting system”.  Demonstrate what waiting looks like if you have to.
  2. Take the shapes and/or coins and “hide” them around the room. Think of location concepts or clues you could give your older child. For example: “in”, “on top”, “under”, “above”, “next to”, “in front of”.  You can do this part in different ways.
    • Have them find the shapes/coins on their own, and then give them to the younger sibling to put in the box. Teamwork makes the dream work!
    • Have them wait and say, “I’m thinking of a red shape with four sides that is in front of the couch” and have them find that specific shape. Still have them give that shape to the younger sibling to put in.  Complimenting turn taking, and sharing is a great way to build those behaviors during this activity!
    • For your little one you can work on modeling language for: “put in”, “thank you”, labeling colors, labeling shapes, etc.
  3. The “Just Right Road” was introduced to me by an amazing Occupational Therapist and I will encourage parents to even use it to get homework done on those days where their child has excess energy and little motivation to sit down and put pen to paper.
    • Put the shapes/coins at one end of the room and the piggy bank or shape sorter on the other end. Give your older child directions on HOW to move to the shapes/coins, and which ones to get.  For example: skipping, jumping, bear walk, inch worm, hop scotch, roll, etc.  If your younger child wants to imitate that is great!  Again, focus on having your younger child put in the shape and model language!

 If you start to notice the wheels coming off for either child, it is a GREAT time to switch to free play for that little one and explain that it’s ok to “be flexible” in a group!  These activities might only last 5 minutes, but that’s five minutes of learning rich play for the whole family!