You know how it goes. Your preschooler wants to play with you, but your baby is sitting up, crawling, maybe even walking, and wanting to be a part of the action. If you have more than one child (and not through having multiples) you have gone through the phase when you need an activity for your older child, but your younger child isn’t as content to just sit and watch anymore. This can be made more challenging when your baby is in the get-into-everything phase, and still putting everything in her mouth. It is one thing to set them up with two different things to do, but sometimes you only want to deal with one set of toys, one activity, one focus. Plus it would be nice to foster a little sibling play. Here are 10 activities you can do with no or minimal set up that foster development and fun for toddlers, preschoolers, and older babies.
Take a walk. Little kids and babies all love to be outside. Wear your baby or put her in the stroller. Grab your older child and off you go. Talk about what you see, what you feel, what you smell. Use all the senses you can. The movement will keep your baby happy, your older child can run around a bit, and you get some exercise too.
Read a book. Any time I read to my older child my younger ones come crawling over to hear the story. All kids benefit from hearing stories read out loud. The baby might need some toys to play with while they listen, but they can do that while you read. If your older child is interested, have them ‘read’ to the baby. They will like feeling like the teacher to the younger child, and the younger child will love that big sibling is paying attention to them. Bonus to this it could carry on as the kids get older, creating a great sibling bonding tradition.
Have a dance party. My kids have had some sweet moves since they were very young, and none of them can resist a good beat. Big kids love to dance and run to the music, little ones like to wiggle and hear it too. Music boosts brain development. Make a play list of preschool songs with motions in them to practice some gross motor skills, or just groove to your favorite songs.
Make a blanket jump. Take some blankets, pillows, or towels and toss them around the floor. Have the older child jump from blanket to blanket a la the floor is lava. This gets lots of energy out and works gross motor skills. Mobile babies will enjoy crawling from blanket to blanket to mimic their sibling, also getting some energy out. The different textures work as sensory play. You can can customize the theme of this to match your child’s interests. Jump from meteor to meteor in space, use lily pads in a pond, be monkeys in treetops, and of course the lava standby.
Start a pots and pans band. Grab your pots and pans and some wooden spoons and go to town. Your older child can practice mimicking rhythms with you. They can count out beats. They can also compare different sounds from different size pots. Your baby can just enjoy making big noises. They can turn the pots over and practice putting things in and out of the pot. I’ve seen wooden spoons used for teething toys, so this could be a good one during those tough times.
Play with blocks. Regular blocks, Mega Bloks, shoe boxes, it doesn’t matter what the blocks are, just let them build. Older children can practice stacking, working on hand eye coordination. With Mega Bloks you can talk about same vs. different concepts. You can practice identifying some colors and counting. You can work in imaginative play by building castles or barns or houses, whatever your child is into. Babies can work on hand eye coordination with basic stacking and grabbing of blocks. For a bonus interaction, encourage your older child to build a tower and let baby knock it down. Both children will be practicing cause and effect skills, while also focusing on patience as they wait for the tower to be built and then knocked down.
Race cars down a ramp. Grab a box or stiff poster board and make a ramp for cars to drive down. Older children can compare different size cars as they go down the ramp. They can try to use different levels of force to push them down. Babies can either hang out at the base and try to catch the cars, or they can sit at the top of the ramp and push them down themselves. They will practice hand eye coordination and releasing objects on purpose. Both age levels will reinforce cause and effect ideas. They will be seeing how the natural world works in terms of gravity and acceleration. It can also be an exercise in taking turns.
Do yogurt painting. This is a messy one. Get some yogurt, add a little food coloring (or not, your choice), and go to town finger painting! The big benefit of the yogurt is of course that babies can get in their mouths without you worrying too much. Older kids can see how colors can combine to form new ones. They can paint on paper or just on plate that they rinse off and start over with. Babies can smear it all around the tray of their high chair. This is great sensory play for both ages, and a lot of fun. Plan this one for before bath time though.
Play kitchen. Have your older child make play food for you and baby. Baby is going to put everything in their mouth anyway, so they will really be in character. You and your littlest can sit at a restaurant while your older child plays waiter and chef. Talk about healthy eating while practicing handing play food back and forth with baby. Point out colors, shapes, practice counting. Baby can eat and make a mess.
Create an obstacle course. This one sounds like you need a big house or something, but you don’t. Put a blanket over a coffee table to make a short tunnel. Put a chair out to climb over. Throw down some pillows to zig zag around. This will help your older child burn off some energy while practicing gross motor skills. Baby can enjoy playing in the tunnel and crawling around the objects. Just changing the lay of the land challenges how they think about the world around them.
This list is just a jumping off point. What are some of your favorite ways to foster play between your preschooler and baby sibling?