Do you have an older child or children that want to draw, make, build, or otherwise create and then a baby or toddler who wants to do everything their older sibling is up to?
While it’s wonderful for siblings to work side by side, this can be frustrating for older children who need a little breather and some space to explore their own ideas without worrying if a baby sister might make a grab for their paintbrush.
TinkerLab reader, Kristen, shared a question with me that I think will resonate with a lot of our readers. This question comes up all the time, in many forms, from parents of toddlers and older children: “Can you suggest any activities for toddlers while my older child makes art?”
Here’s Kristen’s question:
“Our biggest challenge right now is dealing with two kids at different age and ability levels. I have a 3.5 yr old daughter who loves crafts and gets really involved and into her art and creating. But I also have an almost 1.5 yr old who mostly just wants to destroy what his sister is doing, grab the marker she’s using so he can write in the furniture or empty all the paper out of the paper bin :). I struggle with giving my older child the appropriate and sufficient creative outlets while also trying to keep hazards away from my toddler. This often limits what activities we can do and I hate that for my daughter. How did/do you handle this? For example, my older child loves cutting and gluing but my son will grab scissors or glue from her or demand my attention elsewhere and I can’t give her the assistance or attention she needs to complete some activities. Thanks!”
I shared this question on our Facebook page, and there were many wonderful suggestions. I’ll share some of the highlights here, along with my own thoughts, and I’d like to send out a big “thank you” to everyone who chimed in with ideas.
6 Activities for Toddlers
1. Work on Art Projects while your Toddler Naps
This is sort of a cheat, but I’ll start here since it’s the most obvious. The trick here is to get yourself organized ahead of time to maximize nap time. Obviously, many siblinlings nap at the same time, making this a moot point. So that takes us to idea #2…
2. Set up Designated Table Spaces for each Child
Set up a clearly marked space for each child and sit between them to fairly distribute materials, help each child keep hands to themselves, and assist with special needs such as cutting play dough or squeezing glue bottles.
While children of different ages won’t have the same skills, they will use the materials you introduce in a way that’s appropriate for their age and interests. In the example above, my older daughter drew with the pastels and mase complex paper patterns, while her toddler sister stuck paper scraps to the orange paper where I placed big dots of glue.
Side-by-Side Table Activities:
3. Redirect your Toddler with a Sensory Experience
Toddlers love sensory projects and can be entertained by them for a long while. Set up an intriguing sensory experience nearby, over a large blanket or easy-to-clean floor.
- A tub full of wheat berries
- Deep bowl of water with scoopers
- Put them in the tub with some washable bathtub crayons
- Mix flour and water or cornstarch and water
4. Set up an Activity that Everyone can Enjoy
Find an activity that your toddler can work on alongside your other child/ren. In the photo above, both of my children like to draw with chalk, so we set up a chalkboard canvas on the ground next to our kitchen chalkboard and a shared basket of chalk on the floor. My younger daughter drew on the floor chalkboard while her older sister drew on the door.
This isn’t fool proof, especially if your younger child likes to involve themselves with their siblings, but it’s worth trying. One of the benefits is that it can help older children develop empathy for younger siblings (and vice versa) as they work alongside one another.
Good art materials for toddlers and preschoolers:
- Play dough
- Chalk + Chalkboards
- Glue dots + Buttons (use caution when using small objects with toddlers)
- Check out this post: 50 Art Materials for Toddlers
5. Give your Toddler a High Chair Activity
When my older daughter was three, we wanted to try a printmaking project, but we were afraid her one-year-old sibling would be eager to pull apart. To give my three-year old free reign to explore without the distraction of her baby sister, I set little R up in a nearby high chair with some yogurt and a few drops of all-natural food coloring. You can read all about it here.
To make the highchair art activity work, find a simple sensory activity that will engage your child in the (contained) high chair.
Highchair art ideas:
- yogurt + food coloring paint
- small amounts of vegetable paints made from mashed peas and carrots
- small bowl/s of water with a few drops of food coloring and a piece of paper taped to the high chair table
- chopping butter
6. What Ideas do you have for Toddler Activities?
This list is by no means comprehensive. Please add your idea/s in the comments to add to this ongoing conversation and tool for other parents who struggle with this issue.
Thank you so much, Mary 🙂
I love these ideas. As a mom of a 4-year old and a 15-month old, I am often told by my older son to “please do something with JA, he’s ruining my project!”
Hi Cassie, 15-months is “that” age 🙂 It will pass, of course, and I hope that at least one of these ideas will help get you over the hump.
We do just about everything using the side by side at the table or baby in the high chair methods – and I do think it is vital to try having them work together, as in your chalk example. One thing we love to do that is similar to the chalk idea is something my mom used to do: buy remnant rolls of newsprint from the local newspaper (huge paper rolls for a couple of dollars, usually!) and roll it out on the floor or table top, set out crayons and voila – mural making together!
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