Growing up in a family of four kids with age ranges from four years to eleven years apart can create a challenge when the family wants to do things together. A four year old and a fifteen year old certainly do not want to do the same things. What’s a parent to do? Get creative for one thing and enlist the help of your older children. I know there has been a lot of talk about independent play lately and while I agree with its benefits whole heartedly I also love structured family play time. And when you find what works, we call it our family play time sweet spot; you can all have fun together regardless of the age range of your children.
So how is it done without any of yelling, pouting or temper tantrums and I’m not even talking about the kids? You start by enlisting the help of the older kids. I can’t tell you how many times I have reminded my daughter of my son’s age. Not in a mean way but in an effort to help her understand he has limitations and she is old enough to acknowledge them. I also know from numerous stories from my oldest brother who is eleven years older than me that he did a lot of baby sitting and not so my parents could go out but so we could all do things together. I often ask my older child to help out with my youngest. If there is something we all want to do as a family and I know it might be challenging for my son I tell my daughter and ask her to help him with encouragement, distractions and patience. It helps.
We also do a lot of thinking about activities we can do as a family that take into consideration all the kids ages. Yes my daughter is ready for a full length feature film but my son isn’t so as a family we haven’t been out to the movies. My son still likes story time at the local library but my daughter is reading on her own so that too we do separately. What we have found successful are board games. We modify the rules if necessary (and sometimes once mastered make them harder!) to accommodate my youngest. You can also play in teams so the younger ones can pair up with an adult and play against the older child. I do this with crafts too. I will set up the older one and then my youngest and I will do it together.
I am always looking out for toys with a wide age range. LEGO Duplo, wooden building blocks, puzzles, books, train sets, indoor tents and dress up clothes are a few we have found. All kids love getting wildly wet and soapy washing cars, playing with dirt in the garden, being artist with sidewalk chalk and the evening tradition of books at bed. Now that my daughter is reading and I still want to read in bed as a family at night we have my daughter read her book to the rest of us. Granted this was a test of my son’s patience when she was just learning to read but I reminded him he wasn’t far behind and would want his big sister to listen to him read soon. I was actually surprised that my son sat so well listening to his sister’s chapter books with no pictures. He will even request her chapter books from time to time especially the Magic School Bus series (the one about germs and volcanoes are his favorite).
Finding things the whole family can do together is challenging when the kid’s age ranges are vast (and even when they’re not) but it’s worth the effort. I still recall one of my favorite pictures from my childhood. My three older brothers and I were dressed up in hilarious outfits complete with pillows stuffed in shirts, crazy hats and sunglasses and stacked on top of each other laughing hysterically. My oldest brother must have been in his late teens but somehow we all found this moment together and I bet each could recall it now if I reminded them of the picture. Those are the sort of family activities that turn into family memories.