How to balance purposeful play with multiple children

Do you ever struggle to make playtime meaningful with your children? It can be a challenge to meet everyone’s needs and find activities to keep their interest. Here are five strategies to help make playtime feel more enriched and less overwhelming!

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Let’s face it–when you have children, life changes. Being a parent will spread you thin, and typically when you have more than one child, you will need to somehow give each of them your attention equally. This can quickly become very stressful. So how do we create meaningful and purposeful time with each child while still maintaining our sanity?

Spending quality time together can be done through a variety of purposeful settings such as one-on-one time, group play, daily routines, creating structured play opportunities, as well as individual play and exploration. A good combination of these can create meaningful opportunities for your child to learn and grow.

If your children are close in age, this can sometimes present challenges to spending individualized time together, but the benefit is that you’ll be able to find activities they can share. For children further apart, you may find one is busier with school while the other one is at home. Different bedtimes may also present good opportunities for quality one-on-one time.

Personally, I’ve found it best to prepare ahead when I’m planning one-on-one time with my kids. Think about focussing on your little ones’ strengths, interests, and challenges that you may want them to work on. Whether it’s doing an activity with them, choosing a meaningful outing or story, playing with a favorite toy or just having a conversation — these are simple yet effective ways to connect.

Here are some examples of times that you can turn into a special moment with your children. 

Nap Time

If you have one child who naps and another who doesn’t, this can be great “big kid” time. Sometimes, it will need to be the time when you get things done so your older child will need to play independently and this is fine. But occasionally try to spend some of this time together reading stories, working on a new skill, or playing their favorite game in order to really connect one-on-one.

Individual play

If you find that one child is happily engaged in an activity independently, this can be a great time to engage the other child in play. Independent play is important too, so don’t feel the need to constantly join in on your child’s play.

Bed time

One of my favorite times is bedtime.  I know that by this point we are all exhausted, but if you can find the energy to share a story or talk about the day with each child separately this can be really important quality time together. I have three children and when I do bedtime myself I start with my youngest and work down to my oldest.  They have the choice to play something quiet in their room or look at a book until I can make it to them.  They all love the goodnight stories and snuggles and this helps them to wind down to sleep.

Diaper changes

Although these moments are brief, it’s a great time to connect by singing a favorite song, sharing some smiles, and checking in.

Group play & Activities 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you’re all spending quality time together. The important thing is to have some time together without any distractions.

  • Hear each voice: Make sure each child gets a chance to share his/her thoughts or ideas, this can be challenging so either prompt them and ask for a specific child’s thoughts or give each child a turn to talk. Be supportive of different ideas.
  • Adapt to every one’s level: Make sure each child can connect to the group activity no matter their age. For instance, how can your 2-year-old be involved and how can your 4-year-old participate?
  • Give each child a job: Make sure everyone has a responsibility so they are invested in whatever it is you’re doing. We like to talk about working as a team and everyone in the team has a job so we can have fun. It empowers each child and helps us to work together, which can make activities more fun!
  • Take turns letting each child pick the activity, outing or book: Give each child a chance to lead and explore his/her interests.  It may not always be the other child’s favorite but this is ok as they can learn something valuable and learn how to find enjoyment in something new or different. Support each child’s choices.