I’m sure we’ve all experienced times when having to entertain more than one child leads to a huge amount of arguing, squabbling and bickering. Unfortunately, while this is a very normal part of child development, it doesn’t make for a relaxing or peaceful break for anyone. If getting out the house isn’t an option, what else can you do to help your kids get along?
Topic based learning involves choosing a theme (which both children are curious about) and using it to create age-appropriate activities. Over a mealtime, my children and I talk about things that interest them both and we make a list. Often, we combine ideas to make sure everyone is happy. In my experience, letting children decide on a theme means they are much more likely to engage in the activities you set up later. Recent themes in our house have included dinosaurs, rainbows, minibeasts and volcanoes. Our next topic is going to be mythical creatures as my daughter wants to learn about unicorns and my son is interested in dragons!
Once you’ve got a theme, let Google be your friend and get inspired. Use the image search and have your children look with you and point out things that they think look fun. Child-led learning is the term educators use when they let children decide what and how they learn about something. It means the children are free to explore and discover based on their own interests rather than that of the parent or teacher. Personally, I often start with a trip to the library to gather factual information. If this isn’t possible, then use YouTube or Kiddle.co for a great, child-friendly search engine.
If only one child is old enough to voice an opinion then be sure to consider how you could make the idea appropriate for your younger child too. Craft activities with a specific outcome are great for keeping older ones busy, but, are usually quite adult-led or too complicated for younger children. Save these for when your little one is asleep and instead opt for open-ended play opportunities. This is where there is no expectation of what the end project should look like. This doesn’t mean you can’t suggest what your child might like to do, but rather, you aren’t prescriptive about HOW they do it. For example, you could provide building blocks (Duplo or Lego depending on age), play-dough, empty cardboard boxes or craft materials and ask them to build a castle for the dragon to fly around. They might agree, or they might have another idea of what they want to do! Creative and imaginative activities are also ideal ways to encourage multi-age play as they can be accessed at a level appropriate to each child.
Display photographs and other things you create during the project on a door or wall in the house so children are invested in their shared learning experiences. It also provides a talking point to inspire future learning.
For further play inspiration, take a look at Busy Brains Activity Packs. Each age-appropriate set contains 30 cards, designed to complement the developmental needs of children from birth to five. They're packed full of things to do in and around the home and aim to use resources you’ll likely already have.