It can be hard to find crafts, games and activities for siblings with a big age gap, check out this list full of great ideas so your big and little kids can play together!
If you’re here, then you probably have kids with a big age gap, you’re stuck at home and you’re going a little nuts. My children have a significant age gap, one is in later elementary, the other in preschool. I also had a big age gap with my own brother, so I know firsthand that it can be challenging to find games and activities that big kids and little kids can do together.
But we’ve got to figure this out because my kids literally have no one else to play with right now. They have to learn to get along, right?
I used to think that most collaborative activities just wouldn’t work with my kids BECAUSE of their big age gap. At least until they were both older. Their age difference and attention span difference is so big that they just couldn’t DO a lot of the same things.
For example, when I tried to take them both to the public pool in the summer, one can swim independently, the other needs to basically be within arm’s reach in a wading pool the whole time. In the same vein, my big kid has no interest in the play kitchen anymore and my little kid can’t do regular Legos. I thought it was just impossible because they were so far apart.
But now that we’ve been stuck at home for more than a month I’m realizing the key is choosing the RIGHT activities and games for them to do together. I was kind of a big “duh” moment for me. And of course, the more time they’ve spent playing together, the better they’re getting at it. So if you’re struggling with this too, there’s hope!
(Now, am I saying that my kids magically play nicely together all day long like a happy ending Disney movie? NOOOO! But it has improved since we encouraged them to pick specific activities.)
What is my definition of big age gap, big kid and little kid?
For the purposes of this post, I’m assuming a big age gap is an age gap of more than 3 years between kids where they are likely to be in significantly different stages of development.
I’m assuming that a big kid is one in elementary school or older who can read.
I am considering a little kid as one who is approximately between age 3 and 6, (basically preschool through kindergarten) who is not yet reading much but has good language skills, can follow simple directions, and won’t put things in their mouth anymore (i.e. not a toddler or baby).
(If you came here looking for things for toddlers to do with their older siblings, this list won’t quite fit the bill. But consider activities like art supplies that they can use with varying levels of difficulty, building with something like MagnaTiles that they both can use, or baking projects where the big kid can measure and the toddler can dump or stir. )
What is challenging about finding activities for kids with a big age gap?
- If one child can’t read yet, that can limit which activities they can both do.
- Attention spans can be quite different.
- They may have different interests.
- They are likely to have fairly different ability levels.
What are the benefits of siblings with a big age gap playing together?
- They entertain each other. (So important when you’re stuck at home!)
- They learn to collaborate and play together.
- They (hopefully) practice resolving conflicts.
- Their relationship becomes closer.
- The big kid learns patience and how to help, the little kid learns how to ask for help, listen to instructions and learn new skills.
How do you choose a game or activity that siblings can do together?
- If they do have common interests, pick something based on that. For example, if they both like cars and trucks, or they both like artistic activities, that’s a good start.
- Start with short activities and games. Like anything else, playing together takes practice, so start small.
- Give them some options. Kids always like things better if it’s “their idea”
- Consider starting with a collaborative game or activity rather than a competitive one.
How do you make crafts, games and activities for siblings successful?
I am not an expert. So you know, parent your kids the way that works for you. But here are some things I’ve tried that seem to help.
- Lower your expectations. Seriously, consider it a win if they play together nicely for 5 minutes the first time. I’m still pretty excited if they last for even 10 minutes!
- Lay out your expectations ahead of time. Say something like, “My expectations are that you will try this game together for five minutes. You need to be kind, take turns and stay calm. If you have a problem and need help, please let me know.”
- When they’re doing a good job of playing together, point it out!
- Tell yourself that some arguing is normal. That’s how kids learn to resolve conflicts. See if they can work it out. And of course intervene if it gets too heated.
- Consider tweaking the rules or guidelines of a game or activity to make it a little less competitive. Or add a new rule to make it easier for the little kid (ex. let the little kid stand closer when throwing beanbags).
- Allow yourself to abandon an activity if it isn’t working.
- Make sure everyone’s had a snack before you start. Snacks make everything go better.
Games for Siblings with a Big Age Gap To Play Together
Guess Who – This one is PERFECT because it’s super easy to learn, and all kids, both big and small, love knocking down the little doors with the pictures on them. It’s also a quick game that doesn’t drag on. My little one has gotten so good at Guess Who that she wins more than half the time. She can’t read the names on the cards but at the end of the game she just shows the other person who her guess is and that works fine.
Spot It (or Spot It Jr) – There are lots of versions of this game, make sure to choose one where your little kid will know what the pictures are. It’s surprisingly challenging but also easy at the same time, so it works for little kids, big kids, and even adults. To avoid the frustration of having a big kid be better and win all of the rounds, we just take turns finding matches, one person at a time.
Too Many Monkeys – This one says age 6 and up, but my little kid picked it up in one round and now she loves it. If your little one knows the numbers 1-6, they might enjoy this fun game and it’s easy, quick and enjoyable enough for big kids/adults too.
I Spy – Everyone loves I Spy! We mostly play this when we’re out for a family walk or drive. Often our little kid’s choices are adorably easy but its still fun because she’s delighted when we guess. I’ve also heard good things about this board game version.
Matching Games – Otherwise known as Memory. To make this game work for big and little kids together, eliminate the rule that you get another turn after you find a match (otherwise the big kid might win much too easily). They make matching games in practically every theme imaginable so if your kids share an interest in animals or Disney or something, grab a game that they’ll both like! (you can even make your own matching game!)
Suspend Jr. – This game, where you balance hanging pieces, is easy enough for little kids. but tricky enough to still be interesting for big kids and adults. We’ve loved this one!
Hungry Hungry Hippos – As long as your little kid is big enough to not put things in their mouth, this fun game fits the bill. It’s super fast. It requires basically no actual skills. And come on, it’s just fun.
Any kind of BINGO! – Big kids love to call the letters or pictures, little kids love to play!
Rhino Hero – If your little one has good motor skills, this is a fun game that’s engaging for both big and little kids, you basically are building a card house by taking turns. If your little kid is very little, just let them build with the cards together. Also, to avoid hurt feelings, you can skip having a winner or loser and just build together to see how tall you can get it.
Crafts & Activities for Siblings with a Big Age Gap To Do Together
Any Crafts! – I mean, this IS a craft website after all. You can tailor most any craft to fit a big vs. little kid. They can paint ceramics, they can paint wooden shapes or ornaments, they can make flowers. The point is, that they can do slightly different things together at the same time and still be bonding. Will the big kid’s craft look like the little kid’s craft? Nope. Not at all. Will the little kid probably make a much bigger mess? Yes! But that’s ok because that’s not really the point! The differences in their craft projects will capture the differences in their ages and personalities and that’s what makes crafting together wonderful! Here are some other great ideas for craft for bored kids. And here are my favorite craft kits for kids of all ages!
Art for Kids Hub – This is our all-time favorite drawing website where “Mr. Hub” shows kids how to draw all kinds of different things. What’s perfect about this site is that HE has kids with a big age gap and he shows how they are all able to draw what he’s drawing in their own way. Does my preschooler’s drawing come out looking like my big kid’s? No. But it’s still fun and she’s always really proud of her creation! I like to have them watch via the Art for Kids Hub website directly so my kids aren’t all over YouTube. (Check out my list of other fun, free and safe online art lessons for kids for
Shrinky Dinks – I mean let’s be honest…even adults like Shrinky Dinks. And since you need an adult anyway for the baking step, this is a great activity for kids of any age to do together. It’s ok if your little kid scribbles and your big kid colors in between the lines. They will be equally delighted to watch their creations magically shrink up in the oven!
Any other art projects! – Little kids can use pretty much every any art supply that a big kid can. From paint to cray-pas to markers to watercolor. Of course they will make very different kinds of artwork (and bigger messes) but even doing the same activity together at the same table can be nice.
Build forts – We have two kinds of fort building sets and my kids can play with both of them together, though the fort building kit with smaller straws is a bit easier for my little kid. My big kid can help her with any tricky or tall parts. They both LOVE this activity. Last week I gave them the task of building a fort they could sit in together to watch a movie. They built it together, filled it with pillows and then sat in there together with popcorn for an entire movie. It was amazing. Who doesn’t love a fort?
Reading – Get your big kid to read picture books to your little kid. It’s a win-win because your big kid gets to feel very grown up and your little kid gets read to!
Building Toys – Building toys that are fun enough for both big kids and little kids include MagnaTiles, Zoobs, regular blocks. My big kid will even play with Duplos if we have a fun set. Kids will naturally build at a level they can handle and the big one can help the little one with anything that’s tricky. This activity can be parallel play (where they play separately but next to each other) or collaborative, depending on your kids.
Train sets – I know that train sets have a reputation for being popular with the preschool set, but seriously, how many times have you had to set up or fix the tracks for your preschoolers because they’re too hard to put together?? Train tracks are NOT easy! That’s why this is actually a perfect activity for big and little kids to do together. The big kid can build the tricky train tracks and can go nuts making figure 8’s and bridges etc. The little one can help by handing over the next piece or telling them what to include and then enjoying the fruits of their labor by drive the trains.
Marble Runs – Much like train sets, these are another toy aimed at little kids that is actually kind of tricky to put together. Sometimes I even have to step in. This is a great toy that my kids love to use together, the big kid helps design the marble run and make sure the pieces are going in the right direction and they both equally LOVE putting marbles down it when it’s finished. I mean, honestly, who DOESN’T love putting marbles down a marble run?? (Again, make sure your little kid is past the toys-in-mouth phase)
Walkie Talkies – If you can teach your little kid how to push the button only when they want to talk, then walkie talkies are guaranteed to entertain your kids, big age gap or not, for hours!
Find Waldo – It’s equally hard for everyone, isn’t it? Part of the fun is just looking around and finding funny things happening in the pictures and then showing the other person what you found.
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