This post may contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. You can find my full disclosure page here.
Wish your kids played together more? You can use sibling playtime to help them learn, and then you can use this time to get more done!
If you have more than one kiddo, one strategy you can use to make more time for your business is what my family calls sibling playtime.
As you can probably imagine, sibling playtime is when siblings pair up, and play together. While they’re busy playing, you can knock out some tasks for your blog or business.
But, you do need to take some time to set the ground rules or you may just end up with chaos.
Clarifying note before we get started: My kids play together all the time! There is plenty of free time around here and they pair off or group up on their own and go do things.
This is different. Sibling playtime is a scheduled, pairing of kids. This is when I have older kids play with younger kids who they might not normally spend a ton of time with. It’s special time with one sibling, instead of a free for all play session where the kids can come and go.
The Ground Rules for Sibling Playtime
Setting ground rules takes time. And it requires that you enforce the rules. Otherwise there’s no point in having them.
The first week or so after you implement sibling playtime (or any new routine), you won’t get as much done. That’s because you will be busy making sure it’s going smoothly.
Here are the ground rules my family uses for this time of day.
Have a Time Limit
There needs to be a definite ending point to sibling playtime. I set the timer for 30 minutes, and everyone knows how long they have.
Without a timer, I discovered I would keep adding minutes in my head to this time. I’d think, “Oh the kids are playing so well together, I’ll just do this other task quickly too…”
And then the breakdowns started.
The kids went from playing nicely to fighting over a toy. Or arguing about something random.
You want to end sibling playtime while it’s still going well. This way everyone enjoys the time and wants to do it again.
Without a time limit, it’ll end when someone gets mad.
Pair Your Kids
If you have an even number of kids, pair them up. Make sure you rotate the pair (unless you only have two) so that everyone gets a chance to play with each other throughout the week.
With an odd number of kids, you can have one group of three. Or you can decide who gets to do a super fun individual activity at the table during this time.
It’s a good time to bring out shaving cream for finger painting in, a special toy set, play dough with tools, or something of that nature.
I’ve found groups of three tend not to work as well as groups of two. There’s more personality differences and opinions when you add the third person, and one usually ends up left-out.
So when we have odd numbers, I opt to alternate which child is solo.
With a larger family, it’s important to keep dynamics in mind. I don’t typically match my one-year-old and three-year-old with each other, because that would bring utter destruction to some area of the house!
Some years I have a dedicated rotation schedule that I write down on a chart.
Other years (like this one), I take the dynamics of the day into account and have the kids select pairs throughout the week. So on Monday, I’ll start with my youngest talker and ask who she wants to be with. Then we up the line until everyone has a buddy.
The rest of the week, the rule is they can’t be with someone they were already with.
You might have to adjust that rule based on family size…
The Youngest Child Selects an Activity
This has been our rule for sibling playtime since the beginning. The youngest child picks what they’re going to do.
I’ve discovered that the younger kids don’t often get to be the boss. They’re designated to be the cat while playing house, or have to just tag along in some way.
Having thirty minutes a day where they get to pick what to do with an older sibling has been good for them!
And it teaches the older kids to be kind and patient.
The older child might not like what’s selected. But it doesn’t matter. I tell them their siblings don’t always like what they pick, but they still play.
Everyone is used to it now, but it did cause a little bit of rumpled feathers at first.
Note: When someone is paired with a non-talker (for us it’s the baby and my son with special needs), the other child can pick. But, they must take the abilities and interests of the other person into account.
Pairs Pick an Area
Once the kids are paired up, it’s time for them to select an area of the house/yard for playing in. Otherwise they all try to do something together, which doesn’t work out too well.
Think about where in your house pairs of siblings can go to play. Here’s a quick list to get your brain going:
- The living room
- One bedroom
- A dedicated play space
- The kitchen table
- The backyard
The type of activity they want to do will affect where they play. You don’t want play dough happening on the carpeted bedroom floor! This means you have to oversee this part of the transition, just to ensure no one is playing where they shouldn’t be.
Stay in Your Area
Once the pairs have gathered what they need and are in their area, they need to stay in their area until the timer beeps.
Otherwise you might have one sibling wandering off to explore what the other pairs are doing. Or you’ll have pairs wind up together into a group of four, which doesn’t work as well for this time.
Of course potty breaks are allowed, but otherwise the kids need to stay where they were.
Stick with One Activity
In order for me to be able to concentrate, I needed the kids to pick only one activity. Before I implemented this rule, here’s a typical progression of events:
Pair A: Plays for five minutes and then come and find me.
Me: Go back to sibling playtime please.
Pair A: But we’re bored. Can we play with XY or Z instead?
Me: Sure, go get it.
Pair A: Traipses off to gather newly needed materials, interrupting all the other pairs along the way.
Pair B: They’re doing something different! Mom! Can we do something different too?
I learned my lesson. So now the kids are stuck with whatever supplies/toys they gathered at the beginning. They can change up how they play, or use their imagination with what they have.
But, they cannot leave their area to go get more stuff.
Use Kind Words
And be ye kind one to another ~ Ephesians 4:32a
This is one of our family verses. And I repeat it often and have the kids do the same.
During sibling playtime (and any time), the rule is to be kind to each other.
If your kids aren’t used to playing together, this could be a challenge.
Know in advance what you are going to do if you hear unkind words or see unkind deeds. Then make sure EVERYONE knows what will happen.
And follow through with what you say.
If the offender has to apologize and then go to bed for five minutes, make sure you have them do that.
The less consistent you are, the more you’ll have to deal with it.
Clean Up Together
Both siblings in a pair must help clean up the space when the time is up. This encourages them to not make a huge mess during sibling playtime, since they have to also clean.
Activities for Sibling Playtime
Once the ground rules are in place, it’s time to brainstorm activities your kids can do together. I recommend having a list they can pick from, so they have some inspiration.
Having a list also allows me to break it down by age – I don’t want the one-year-old playing with teeny tiny parts for instance.
So you can have the list broken up something like this:
Baby and Older
Toddler and Older
Preschooler and Older
Then just make sure age appropriate ideas are on each list.
Here are some of the activities on our various lists:
- Play an age-appropriate board game like Don’t Break the Ice or Tell Me A Story
- Set up the train tracks
- Play on the Teeter Popper
- Build a fort
- Use toddler crayons and color a picture
- Do a peg puzzle
- Play house with the toy kitchen
- Read books together (the older one typically reads to the younger one)
- Get out the baby dolls and play house
- Dress up
- Fill the sink partway with soapy water and “wash” some toys that can get wet
- Build something out of a box
- Pretend to be in a circus
- Cook something (trail mix is a favorite since the bigger kids can get the stuff out and the younger ones can dump and stir)
- Make a treasure hunt for your other siblings
- Create a scavenger hunt
- Build with LEGOs
- Make a big tower from Jenga blocks
- Play peekaboo with the baby
- Give the baby a ride around the room in a laundry basket or on a blanket
- Use pattern blocks
There are so many ways your kids can spend time together! And while they’re playing, you can be nearby working. This way you’re ready to intervene if necessary, but are still giving them space to work out some of the problems on their own.
Will You Add Sibling Playtime to Your Day?
If you aren’t already utilizing sibling playtime, consider making it a flexible routine block in your daily schedule.
And for other strategies for calming the chaos and finding time for your business, check out my course Balancing Diapers and Deadlines. It has bite sized lessons to help you clear the overwhelm, harness your brain power, and get more done!
Lisa Tanner is a former teacher turned homeschooling mom with 11 kids. She's also a successful freelance writer. Lisa enjoys helping other busy moms find time to start and grow a side hustle of their own.