Activities a Preschooler and a Toddler Will Both Enjoy Simultaneously

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Ever since my second-born child began crawling, and especially since she’s been walking, I’ve been on a mission to discover things she (currently 18 months old) and my son (currently 4.5 years old) will actually enjoy doing together. It hasn’t been an easy road, and there have been some failures along the way, but I did in fact discover that there are some activities a preschooler and a toddler will happily do together (or at least within the same vicinity as each other). Read on for some sibling-friendly tips that just might restore your faith in your decision to have more than one child:

When Stuck Inside…

Winters and rainy days can be brutal with a preschooler and a toddler looking to you for entertainment. Here’s what’s gotten me through lately:

  • Duplos – my son still enjoys playing with these non-choking hazards, and both my kids will play with a dumped-out basket of Duplos for quite awhile. Hot tip – if your preschooler is anything like mine, he or she may want to save the creation(s) they’ve built. We have designated a “show-off shelf” in our play room as a bit of a safe space for my son’s masterpieces, out of reach of little sister’s prying hands.
  • Play-doh – My preschooler adores Play-doh and will happily play with it for hours! My toddler usually requires me to help her out with her Play-doh interactions, but I don’t mind. Roll up a ball of Play-doh and squish it around in your hands – it’s like a stress ball. You’re practically at the spa!
  • Coloring – It took me awhile to figure out that small children just enjoy coloring with markers more than crayons. Once I gave in to these larger tools, and discovered that Crayola makes “ultra clean washable markers” (“ultra clean?” Music to my neat-freak ears!), I had another activity for my kids to do together.
  • Reading – With the right book (lately we love anything Curious George or Dr. Seuss), my kids will settle in on either side of me as we read together. Calm, quiet, catch-your-breath reading. This is my personal favorite thing to do with my children.
  • Parades – Most households with young children have a basket filled with toy musical instruments. Break it out, have your children pick their instrument(s), pick one for yourself, and get marching! Our parade route consists of endless laps around our dining room table, but whatever works for you!
  • Picnics – Most households with young children also have a basket filled with toy food items.  Spread out a blanket on the playroom floor (for some reason, blankets make everything more fun for my kids) and have a little “picnic.”
  • Dance parties – When all else fails, we turn on some jams and dance away our boredom/tantrums/tears/frustrations.

Confined in a Small Space…

It may seem counterintuitive, but my children seem to play together really well when they are confined in a small space together. I don’t fully understand it, but who cares? Happy kids equal a happy mother. Here’s what works best for us:

  1. The bathtub – Maybe it’s the novelty of the bath toys, or the relaxing calm of being submerged in warm water, but my two typically do very well together in the bathtub. If it didn’t dry out their skin so much, I’d give them multiple baths a day! Hot tip – If you dare, you could de-clothe your kids and put them in the dry bathtub with some shaving cream and paint brushes and let them go to town! Disclaimer – I have been meaning to try this out so I could officially report on it in this post, but I keep chickening out. Sounds fun in theory, though! If you try it out, let me know how it goes in the comments!
  2. The bed – My son sleeps in a full-size bed that is pretty high off the floor so we’ve attached bedrails to it. The bonus? This makes it fairly safe for my toddler daughter to be up there, too. One morning as my son was still in bed playing with his stuffed animals, my daughter begged to join him. I acquiesced, expecting disaster. But just as in the tub, the confined space of the railed-in bed made for a happy place for them to share.

Getting Outside…

Warmer weather is on the horizon and we’ve been discovering what’s fun for both kids to do in the backyard together. Here are some of our current favorites:

  • The sandbox – Another confined space! Throw some small trucks in there with the shovels and buckets and go at it! Hot tip – My husband found desert sand for our sandbox at a local hardware store. It’s white and very fine and great for sand play!
  • Bubbles – Who doesn’t love this backyard staple? Hot tip – bubbles don’t have to be just for outdoors. My kids almost enjoy them more when we blow bubbles inside the house.
  • Finger painting – This may be an inside activity at your house (and more power to you!), but at our house finger painting almost always happens outside. We spread out an old blanket and some big sheets of paper and my little artists happily get to work!
  • Puddle jumping – Both my children love puddle jumping so much that even I, their afore-mentioned neat freak mother, had to cave and allow this fun activity to happen. So we have to change clothes later? It’s worth it for the time we kill (I mean, all the fun we have) while jumping. No puddles in our yard, so we go for “puddle walks” around the neighborhood in our rain boots, on the lookout for the best puddles to leap into.

Adventures…

I save many of our adventures for the weekends when I have my husband along for the ride as well (we need two adults for the children’s museum since my kids have very different interests there and we need to be able to split up), but I do brave the outside world as the sole grown-up with my two children for the following mutually-loved outings:

  • The zoo – We are lucky enough to live near Buttonwood Park Zoo in New Bedford, which is adorable and just the perfect size for preschoolers and toddlers. We can see all the animals, play in the adorable children’s play space, ride the carousel and the train all in about an hour!
  • The playground – I’m going to admit right now that I am not the playground parent in our family and that the thought of chasing after both my son and daughter at any of our local playgrounds gives me crazy anxiety. However, my husband has great luck with both kids at the playground together, so it can be done!
  • The library – I’ve saved one of the best for last. Our local library has a phenomenal children’s area. It’s safe and clean and has tons of things to occupy both my kids. We go at least once a week, and always leave with an armful of books to read at home. I’ve already mentioned that you can read successfully to a preschooler and a toddler simultaneously, and I’ve found that the novelty of library books is always a hit with both my kids. Truly, I don’t know what I would do without our library. It is such a haven of peace and literacy and community.

There are many times throughout my day where I feel torn in two by my children. But the above list reflects the times we’ve been able to all have fun together, times when I see the beauty of siblinghood and realize my children do really love each other after all. What are some activities you’ve found that your preschooler and toddler both enjoy?

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Elizabeth Bettencourt holds a BFA in Theatre and a BS in Secondary English Education from the University of Rhode Island, a Masters in Reading & Literacy from Endicott College, and a Doctorate in Education from Northeastern University. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home parent full time, Liz taught English Language Arts and theatre at Plymouth South High School, where she also served as the ELA department head and the drama club advisor. Liz has also worked as an instructional coach and education consultant specializing in literacy instruction and differentiated instruction. In addition to her work as a mother, Liz currently directs theatre productions for Massassoit Community College and serves on the board of directors for New Bedford Festival Theatre. The majority of her time, however, is spent raising her son James and daughter Muriel with the help of her super supportive spouse, Matt. Liz is excited to be a part of the team at Providence Moms Blog, where she hopes to refresh her writing skills and reflect on this crazy and beautiful thing that is motherhood.