Monday, March 17, 2014

Structured Playtime With Siblings {Sibling Playtime}

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I first read about the idea of Structured Playtime with Siblings in On Becoming Toddlerwise (page 49). There isn't a lot of explanation on it--it is pretty simple and straightforward. It is simply a structured time when siblings play with each other.

The structured is the key thing to pay attention to here and I think it is important. Structured Playtime is talked about on that same page (page 49). Structured Playtime in short means that mom decides what activity is done. Free Playtime means the child decides. In structured playtime, mom sets the rules.

As children get older, you can allow them more freedom in choosing what to do. Sibling Playtime can be Free Playtime with Siblings. There is a  lot of creativity and fun that happens when siblings are allowed to play creatively. It is important to maintain a certain amount of structure whether it is "free" or "structured." 

Structure the Time Slot
You, being the wise adult that you are, get to decide when the playtime happens in the day. Childrn play best together when they are well rested and fed. Keep that in mind as you decide what times of day to have sibling playtime happen. 

Now, with my children being older, I don't even always structure the time slot. My older two children are at school Monday through Friday. On Saturday, they typically like to start off the day playing together. And they have grown to know themselves well enough that they know when it seems to be a good time to break apart for some independent play. But if one morning someone wakes up feeling grumpy and needs to be alone first, I have no problem with Independent Play happening first. 

So with younger children involved, structure the time slot. As your children get older, it is perfectly acceptable to allow them to give input on order of activities. 

Structure the Location
Location is something I think is very important no matter the age. As your child gets older, boundaries will grow, but they must still be present. Have a clear boundary of where you children may play and where your children may not play.

When Brayden and Kaitlyn were young (2 and younger than 1), sibling playtime happened in a bedroom. That was their boundary. As they got older, it expanded to include almost one entire floor of our house--everything but McKenna's room because that is where she was sleeping as a baby. 

We have boundaries for playing in our home. I don't allow toys on the main floor of my house. It doesn't mean they never ever make their appearance. Toys often trickle along when a child is headed to a meal or something, but I send the toys back with them.

I don't allow art stuff to leave the main floor of my home. This way, I ensure things don't A)Get strewn about the house and hard to find when wanted later and B)land in the hands of little toddlers who don't understand where it is and isn't appropriate to express themselves artistically. 

A very important place to have boundaries is when your children are outside. Make it clear where they are allowed to go and where they are not allowed to go. Unsupervised toddlers and preschoolers will likely wander to neighbor's yards and inadvertently destroy decorations or trample flower gardens. They don't know that they shouldn't pull apart your neighbor's wreath, and because of that, they shouldn't be allowed to wander where they want to without adult supervision. 

Another side to the importance of outside boundaries is the safety of your child. The state of your neighbor's wreath is very trivial in comparison to the state of your child's body. 

If your child refuses to stay where you instruct your child to stay, it is time to look at what freedoms you allow throughout the day. I have written extensively on this so see: 
Sample Activities
You might also want to structure the activities done. You don't always have to, and you don't always have to be specific. You can do a general "play outside" and let them decide what is played outside. Sometimes you might give a specific, "go ride your bikes outside." You might alternate who gets to decide what the activity is. There is no list of "yes okay" and "not okay" for sibling playtime. Here are some ideas:
  • Playing with toys (dress up, little people, stuffed animals, kitchen, etc.)
  • Playing board games
  • Playing with play doh
  • Drawing, coloring, or other art
  • Playing outside--swinging, playing on trampoline, playing in sandbox, running through sprinklers, building snowmen, riding bikes...
You may be wondering why have Sibling Playtime--or at least in a structured way. I know my children have learned to get along with each other and have grown to be great friends from playing with each other. When the children know they will be playing with each other and that they are expected to work it out among themselves, they often will work to make the dynamics of playing work. Playing with others helps children learn social skills and how to compromise. 

Structured play teaches "...the child...that he doesn't get to always be the one to choose" (Toddlerwise 49). Knowing this and accepting this helps children to learn to compromise and get along with others. It is also very helpful when it comes time for school. Whether you plan to send your child to school or homeschool, your child will need to accept doing things when the teacher tells him to do it. This is a skill that is important throughout life. Sometimes we have to do things we don't want to do.


kmdhart said...


I have a question about playtime in general. My oldest 2 are really close together; 2.5 and almost 1.5. We also have a fairly small one story house with a big open area where all their toys are. We're also adding # 3 in just a few months.

I love the idea of sibling playtime, but most of the day seems to be sibling playtime. Yet I can tell when they need to be playing apart. We already have IP in place, as well as meals and sleep. So without banishing them to separate rooms (and they share a bedroom) how do I not just be a referee all day? A lot of times they play amazing together, but don't know when to quit. Mostly my DS because he loves his older sis and wants to wrestle all the time. Any suggestions would be great. Thanks! :)

Valerie Plowman said...

I would pay attention to when you need to break things up. I would actually write it down and take notes for a week. See if there is a pattern. I would start with some time together, then move to independent play. From your notes, you might see they consistently start fighting after 1.5 hours together. So I would do splitting them up at 1 hr 15 minutes.

Then play together again. Then lunch. Then play. Then naps.

Also, vary the type of play. Start with free play. Then do some structured time where you do some sort of craft of time at the table or doing puzzles or something.

Tierney Kirk said...

At what age do you recommend starting sibling play time? We are expecting #2 in a couple months, and I've been thinking about this lately. I definitely wouldn't leave my 3 YO alone to play with a newborn, but I'm not sure what age is safe to leave them together to play. I'm sure part of that depends on how careful/gentle the older child is, but what is your general range of recommendation?

Valerie Plowman said...

I am usually more concerned with the age of the youngest--I seem to like it to be around 10ish months. I would start in the room with them at first, then close enough you can be in the room in a couple of seconds.

Lacey and Tyler said...

Okay so I have a question. With IPT, you want to stay out of sight right? Like if they continually want you to help them play? Do you do the same with Sibling Play-or do you still stay involved a little. My kids would be calling me for help or because they're fighting (3.5 & 1.5).

Valerie Plowman said...

I would start out with you being in the room but doing something like reading. Then as they get better and getting along and managing their own conflicts, leave the room but stay in ear shot. When they have a disagreement, stay back and see if they can work it out themselves so long as no one is getting hurt. If they can't, step in and walk them through it. Eventually you will be able to leave them for longer periods.

Tierney Kirk said...

We've now added #3 to the bunch, and I have a question about sibling play with more than two kids. Is it supposed to be just 1:1 time, or time when all kids play together? Example, should we do time for #1+#2, #1+#3, and #2+#3, or just all 3 of them in together? I have LOVED having sibling play for my two oldest, and they play well together (most of the time!), and I want to continue this with other kids as well. My oldest just started school, so #2 and #3 are home together while #1 is gone, then we have a few hours in the afternoon where everyone is home before it's time for dinner.


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