Oodles of Quick and Easy Ways to Have Fun with Your Mixed-Age Kids

Wow, thanks for the thoughtful questions! It sounds like there are lots of families out there enjoying creative time together and would like to do more, and many more who would like to be but just don't know where to start. So here's question #1 for Ask Kiddio, and keep those questions coming!


Dear Kiddio,

I'm home full time with my two children, a barely 1 year old son and 4 1/2 year old daughter. When the baby was small it was easier to spend time doing creative activities with my daughter but as my son is into everything more and more but isn't old enough to join in it's been really difficult to sit with her and do all these little projects that we used to do together. I feel like I'm spending all my time keeping my son out of her toys and making her clean up her wiggly eyes so he doesn't end up with one in his mouth, and I am always frustrated with both of them. What can I do to keep both of them happy and get that quality time that we're missing without stressing myself out!?

Thank you!! Chrissy


Dear Chrissy,

Thanks for the great question! I completely sympathize with you. A baby this age is so tough to manage and play with at his level while trying to engage your older child in activities that fit her developmental level and interests. Even as they get older, it an be hard when their interests are different. In so many ways it's just a joy to have more than one child, but all too often I find myself wishing for the connection and undivided time that I had with my daughter before her rowdy little brother (and needy, angelic baby sister) crashed our party. Certainly as they get older it becomes easier (the baby doesn't put every little thing in his or her mouth, the kids just naturally play together and give you a little break), but this time is bound to be tremendously difficult as you are one person trying to care for two kids with utterly opposite capabilities. Besides the ideas below, I think it's critical that you give yourself a break. It's hard enough to manage all the responsibilities of caring for a couple of kids, keeping house, and maintaining your marriage (let alone doing anything for yourself), you have to lighten up on yourself a bit and honestly pick what's important to you. If you just can't keep up with this now, know that your kids will grow up, there will be more opportunities to build your relationship and do the creative things you want to do, and that honestly, it's not going to ruin them if you let a few things slide to take care of what really matters at this moment.

One of the reasons that I love creative play is that kids of different ages and interests can have fun in completely different ways with the same materials. Here are a few creative activities that have helped us get through this tricky period:
  • Fruity Cheerios. They're colorful, tasty, and have a hole in the middle, making them a super-versatile material. The baby can sit and munch on them while your older child sorts them by color into piles (you can use an egg carton or bowls if your baby isn't too grabby), strings them onto elastic cord to make edible bracelets or necklaces, or glues them onto paper to make pictures. This one has been a perpetual favorite for us.
  • Puffed Rice 'sandbox.' Empty a bag of puffed rice (look in the cereal section where the bags of cheap cereal are; crisp rice works almost as well) into a tray or storage box. Add funnels, bowls, and measuring cups for more edible play. With close supervision (and without the cereal!) you can enjoy kitchen floor water play as well, but there's a fair bit more cleanup!
  • Pudding Paint. Mix up a batch of vanilla pudding (yum!), add a few drops of food-coloring, then let your kids paint paper or the table with it. Your older one may use it as paint, your little one may end up just licking it off his fingers, but they'll both have a great time.
  • Cardboard Box Playhouse/Rocket/Train/School. Procure a large cardboard box and cut a door and windows into the sides if you like (keep an eye on that sharp knife!) and invite your older child to decorate the outside with markers. Furnish the interior with a blanket and some stuffed animals, books, etc, and you may be surprised at how they can actually play together (for five minutes, anyway!)
  • Window Washing. Fill a spray bottle with plain water and give it to the older child, then provide them both with towels. The older child sprays the window, the kitchen floor, the refrigerator, and they both wipe it down.
  • Outdoor Water Painting. Two brushes and a bucket of water, I'm sure you can intuit the rest. Show them how to make hand- and foot-prints on the driveway, let them paint the fence, the side of the house, etc. As it dries it'll disappear.
  • Nature Walk. Load the little one in a stroller, backpack, or other carrier and head out for a hike or, perhaps less optimistically, a walk around a local park. The little one can peek over your shoulder at the treasures your big kid discovers. Even at a small park there are roly-polies and snails to find and new flowers to talk about.
  • Nature Hunt. With a little forethought, your nature walk can turn into a nature hunt! Write up a list of things to find (the smallest bug ever, a yellow flower, two different kinds of pinecones...) and add simple illustrations to guide pre- and early-readers.
While it's helpful to get them playing together, sometimes kids just need their space to do their own thing. Here are a few things that have worked for us:
  • Set up the playpen. Sure, you could put your baby in it and expect him to entertain himself, but how about using it to contain your big kid and her potentially dangerous materials? Set her up with the pom-poms, googly eyes, and scissors, and let her glitter to her heart's content with the knowledge that your little one won't get his hands on her goodies.
  • Use naptime to its best advantage. I know, I'm guilty of using this sacred time to please, please, please get some housework done/check my email/eat chocolate, but a couple of times a week plan a special activity for just you and your big kid while your little one is sleeping (and stick to it!). I know that this seems super-obvious, but I really have to plan for it or I squander my time in front of my computer :)
  • Work at the kitchen table. Set your younger one up with some finger-food and your older one up with an activity that the two of you can share. Your attentions might be a bit divided, but you'll still be attending to both of them.
What ideas do you have for Chrissy? How do you keep your little ones having fun together? Please share an idea or two in the comments!

Have a question for Ask Kiddio? Just leave a comment on this post or send me an email to amanda [at] kiddio [dot] org !
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