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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:
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.