I recently asked those who watch my Instagram stories what they wanted from see more of from me. Obviously I assumed the overwhelming request would be more of my incredibly coordinated and professional kitchen dancing, but amazingly no. It was people asking for ideas of how to play my games with two or more different aged children.
It seems lots of us are struggling with the difficulties of having siblings of different abilities and levels trying to all play the same game. One becoming upset, one destroying it, one desperate to play and disappointed it’s being ruined by siblings, one sibling trying hard to join in but too little to really get it. Or trying ways to entertain them with different activities or games. I hear you.
Note: When I had my two at home aged 1 and 3 as a full time stay at home Mum, even when I could go out to farms and soft play, classes and shops, and had the luxury of grandparent help from time to time and did NOT ALSO HAVE TO DO A JOB, and I found it HARD. So if you’re at home juggling little ones 2 and under, and also trying to work? Wow. You are amazing. I have never had it that hard. I was fortunate enough to be able to focus on just them, which was fooking knackering enough in itself. Trying to balance that with work, I’m not sure how I would have handled it. So consider my hat firmly doffed and know this, trying is enough. Five minutes is enough.
I have a post already on Sibling Play HERE with my general tips and advice on how I played with both of them at different ages. How I used myself as a barrier, the reason I have two small trays and not one large tuff tray, and the ways I tried to split myself when they were younger. That’s worth a read first if you haven’t already seen it. Below is some stuff I’ve been doing whilst I’ve had Flo who’s 3 (about to turn 4) and Ewan who is 5 (almost 6), at home for three weeks.
For us, the biggest challenge is that Flo gives up before Ewan has finished the game. She then wants to destroy or sabotage. She’s had enough. If it was just me and her I could easily say, “ok that’s enough then” and walk away but Ewan wants to finish the game. What do I do? I say this.
Flo is on my ‘team’
By letting Flo join my team I can often extend the play. For example, we were playing pairs. They had to take turns to do it but Flo got bored. Ewan wanted to find all his matches but Flo started kicking off. I said “come and sit on Mummy’s lap and help me try to win” so she did. I let her turn ‘my’ cards over and take my turn against Ewan. The game continued. Sometimes letting them take your turn or be on your team can help. Always worth a try.
Separate games at the same time? I’ve tried this. It’s a nightmare for us. They both want support and it just makes me feel torn and confused and everyone get a bit cross. So this is what I’ve done instead…
The same game at the same time, different ways
We have played loads of my games together. I just use different ways of playing the game to suit their level. Flo is happy to mark make at the moment and can start to form some letters. Ewan is confidently writing sentences. Ewan can read, Flo can just recognise the letters from her name and a few others. Ewan can add up and multiply, Flo is learning to recognise numbers 11-20. So what do we do? We just make a version for each of them but play the same game together. I often use different coloured card or paper so they know which colour is theirs. A crucial part of my Survival Kit!
Spider’s Web - counting in 2’s, 5’s, 10’s for Ewan, standard 1-10 or 1-20 for Flo
Stepping Stones - each side of the cushion has something different for them to collect. Letters or numbers for Flo, tricky words or phonics sounds for Ewan.
Target Practice - I did Florence’s name for her in the garden to splat with a wet sponge, and Ewan had a nerf gun and tricky words to fire at in the kitchen. What did you hit?
Egg Smashing - I have egg shells on a tray each. Both have numbers 1-10 on. I say a sum, Ewan works it out, when he gets the answer he shouts out the number and Flo just has to find that egg on her tray with the number and smash it. Sums for Ewan, number recognition for Flo.
Toy Tombola - toys lined up 1-20. We used their Tat boxes and they each chose 20 toys which killed a good 20 minutes. Ewan has tickets with sums on and Flo just has tickets with 1-20 on. I sat in the middle of their lines.
Code Breaker - played as usual, except for the part with the dice. Ewan had to add two numbers he rolled together to get a number. Flo has to draw the number of dots in the box (she can’t write numbers yet) - the items trapped were their headphones and once they released them they could watch their iPads! WIN ALL ROUND!
Letter Monster - Flo had to feed the monster a certain letter. Ewan had to feed the monster the letters that made up a word the monster asked for. I prepared ahead so I knew I had enough letters for 5 words for Ewan and 5 other random letters for Flo. They took it in turns to feed the monster.
Detectives - Both had clues to the same places around the house. Ewan’s were blue and Florence’s were orange. That was explained at the beginning - Ewan’s were written down clues for reading practice and Flo’s were little drawings. The clues had letters on the back. At the end Flo had to order her first name. Ewan had to order his surname.
Blow football - we played this across a table. Inside the 5 tin foil balls each were scraps of paper with words written on for Ewan and letters for Flo. Each time they scored a goal they got to open the ball up and see what was inside. I sat them both on one side of a table with their balls and a straw. I taped the cups to the opposite side of the table where I sat in-between them and acted as encourager / ball retriever / goalkeeper.
Real or Silly? - I made a little worksheet for Ewan with real and silly words on including lots of phonics digraphs and trigraphs. He had to draw a monster or alien next to silly ones and happy faces next to real ones. For Flo I did letter and symbols. She did ticks next to real letter and crosses next to non-letters.
Shove plate-penny - this is one from the book but we just had letters for Flo to tick off down one side, whereas Ewan had an empty sheet of paper to write down the trick words his plate landed on.
And there are even more on my You Tube Channel...
People have asked about the eldest one interjecting and giving the answers for the youngest. I would take quite a harsh line with this if Ewan did it and explain that it isn’t fair to take away Florence’s turn. I would give him an example of me ruining his chance to try and ask him how might feel. The golden rule is always the same for me. If it isn’t fun, we stop playing. If this behaviour makes it not fun, I would stop the game and calmly walk away. Likewise if one doesn’t want to join in and wanders off I leave them to it. They sometimes come back to join in, and take my place if it’s too far into it.
Using screens or timers to focus one-to-one - if I want to give my full attention to one of them I set the other up on the iPad or my phone with a timer on. Then they swap over. If you aren’t keen on this then here are a few of the other distractions I’ve used for Flo while I support Ewan with trickier work Flo couldn’t play along with too. I set up both things at the same time. So Florence’s distraction is there for when Ewan wants to do wherever task is his.
- Stood at the sink on a chair playing ‘washing up’
- A snack
- Video calling grandparents or friends on her own
- Ice smashing
- Sticker books or dry wipe marker books (recommendations for sticker books in this blog)
- Letting her use the spray mop or a spray bottle of water to ‘clean’ the kitchen
- A tea set with water which I then add in flour as ‘sugar’ or herbal teabags or a pair of scissors for her to chop up flowers or leaves from the garden.
I tend to set these up a little distance away from each other, and then flit between the two when they are actively playing. It isn’t easy. It takes effort which I am not always up for but it’s usually always worth it. I recently played Silly Soup with Ewan and Flo sat nearby tipping letters out onto a tray while I tried to encourage her to find ones she knew from her name. My phone rang so I took a two minute phone call and when I returned Flo had tipped every letter we have onto the floor including those I’d carefully sorted into vowels and consonants for the game. #fiveminutefail
There are certainly things they enjoy doing together. Water and sand and play-dough play. Anything that involves these like potion making, kinetic sand castles, play doh (add scissors and chop it up, add cupcake cases and birthday candles, add kitchen utensils), putting water down a marble run (an idea from my friend Lisa @peachy_speech), putting the sprinkler on in the garden. They also enjoy playing puzzle pass the parcel, playing Orchard board games, treasure hunts, boules, the water maze from Henry’s games, giant snakes and ladders, bubbles, bouncy balls, finding bugs, licking the bowl, having a sleepover in each others’ bed, building a den, watching Kids Art Hub and drawing along, making it dark, having a disco, run around stark naked. I feel lucky they are the age they are during this lockdown period.
I am going to post a story highlights on my instagram feed of all the games I can find they’ve played together as siblings. I’m sorry I can’t give you more ideas of how to play if you have a baby aged 1-2 and a toddler. I can only share what I am doing at home with my two at the ages they are. If you have any children under 3 this must be EXCEPTIONALLY hard. Their attention span is very short at this age and their understanding limited. It’s so tricky. Just do what you can and don’t beat yourself up. Reading a book together under a blanket is an activity. Watching a TV show together and chatting about it is an activity. Sing nursery rhymes while you bounce them up and down on your lap is a game, and it’s plenty. If you can get through this with a shred of sanity intact you’re a bloody hero in my book!
If you have kids this is relentless. There’s no let up. No breathing space. Yes yes yes we all know things could be worse but that doesn’t make us feel like this is a doddle because we understand others are have it harder. It’s still RELENTLESS. Everyone I know is finding it hard. Teachers, Early Years specialists, people who are usually stay at home parents, Speech and Language Therapists, rich people in big houses. Everyone. So if you are thinking ‘this is so hard’ just know that even those who you might think are finding it easy, aren’t. You’re doing just fine.
Keep on keeping on. We have 6 weeks under our belts. We are another day closer to this being over and life returning to normal. There are always things to be grateful for, and in the meantime there’s chocolate and wine.