When I had my second child, I was ill prepared for the lack of structured activities there are to do (simultaneously) with two children who are almost 3.5 years apart in age. I guess I just took for granted the unencumbered playtime I experienced with my first baby. By the age of two, she had been to swimming lessons, music & movement classes, kindergym, our weekly Mom & Tots group, and more. In comparison, by the same age, my son had made some baby friends at the Mom & Tots group... but that’s pretty much it! The logistics of having two kids (or more) can get a bit tricky - how does one participate in a weekday baby swimming class, for example, and leave a 4 year old on the sidelines?
I started to feel like my second child was getting the short end of the stick and I was desperate to replicate at home many of the same activities we experienced at formal playgroups. So, I started to think - what did they offer that made learning and playing fun for kids? If you’re in the same boat, here are some tips for you; many are budget-friendly, too!
Schedule regular play dates
While playing with siblings is fun, it’s important for a kid to interact with friends their own age. If you’ve been lucky enough to connect with the parents of your children’s peers, try scheduling weekly play dates. Try alternating homes (or choose to meet at parks, rec centers, etc when the weather is nice); it will make for a more exciting environment. I mean, who doesn’t love playing with different toys or hanging out in a fun, new place? ☺ Setting up consistent play dates is good for you, too… parents can often take turns supervising, allowing a few hours of free time to work, run errands or just have some “me” time.
Set up play stations
Toy and activity rotation is key here – a few tables set up with rotating activities each day (or a few times a week) is a great way to replicate the playgroup setting. My daughter is in kindergarten now and this is the norm in her class; she loves the variety and it helps inspire her learning. One of my children’s favorites is modeling clay. They could play with this for hours.
Tip: scour garage sales and second-hand stores for inexpensive cutters, molds and other accessories for playing with dough.
Save some $$: making your own dough is fun and easier than you think. If they’re old enough, have your child(ren) help make it - kids love to get messy! Here’s the recipe given to me by the wonderful facilitator at my son’s current playgroup. It’s fantastic stuff – moldable, not too sticky or greasy, and lasts for a long time; simply store in a re-sealable plastic bag.
2 c flour
2 c water
½ c salt
3 tbsp oil
2 tbsp cream of tartar
- Mix all ingredients together in a pot (not a glass pot) and put on the stove on medium heat
- Keep stirring until mixture forms a ball
- Be careful not to burn!
Spark your creativity
Take advantage of amazing web resources like Pinterest to help ignite your imagination. It is a veritable treasure chest of the best crafts, outdoor activities, learning resources and more for kids. It really does distill all of the best ideas in one place, so be sure to use this amazing resource! And, while you’re at it, you can find awesome slow cooker recipes and quick, healthy meal ideas to make your life even easier.
Happy creating and playing with your children!