My kids are 5 1/2 years apart. When I was pregnant with Eleanor the most common question I pondered and was asked, "Do you think they'll play together?" weighed on me. When our lives merged together the age gap wasn't an issue because they had separate lives: Oliver was in school and Eleanor was at home; they had different friends; they had different interests. But COVID changed their time apart, they are constantly together now. I grew tired of keeping their activities separate and desired more of a bonding learning experience. We started a morning learning lesson together and it quickly became our favorite time of the day. Here are the kid-approved activities that have cultivated more learning and connection between my kids, and I hope they'll serve yours in the same way.
A-is for Airplane
Tot-Let’s build an airplane. The kids have built 967 forts so they had the blanket and chair construction down pat. We use chairs and blankets to construct then talked about trips we had gone on and what could be found on an airplane.
2nd grader- Where would you fly? As my daughter continued to play, my son and I talked about places he’d like to visit. We looked on the globe and came up with 3 destinations. I asked: How long do you think it would take us to fly to those places? He made a few predictions then he looked up the times and charted them later that day.
B-is for Baking
Tot and 2nd grader- Baking an elaborate dessert can be very tricky with two kids in the kitchen. I recommend an easy-to-make muffin mix to add eggs and applesauce. Oliver preheated, broke eggs, and combined ingredients; Eleanor added applesauce, input muffin cups, and stirred. They quarreled to eventually take turns spooning the mix into the cups. Oliver controlled the baking timer and we all enjoyed the fruits of our labor afterward.
C-is for Colorful Cards and Carrots
Tot and 2nd grader- A schoolmate's mom is an ICU nurse here in San Diego. She requested that we make flyers and cards to encourage her team and patients. She set out a box in her front yard for drop off. I brought out our craft supplies: stickers, watercolors, markers, and crayons and a little carrot snack. Oliver was asked to write 4-5 inspirational shout-outs for the patients and healthcare staff while Elle was required to use lots of colors and discuss.
D-is for Dog
Tot- We are a dog-loving family, and I know from my rusty child development courses that life skills is a major topic to be shared with budding learners. We talked about all the things we do to take care of our dog; food, water, shelter, exercise. She then spent some time taking care of all her stuffed animals.
2nd grader- We have an awesome flap book (link) of every breed of dog. Oliver was asked to look through all of them and write a paragraph answering: “What kind of dog should we have next and why?” Prior to his writing we discussed temperament, compared our current dog, and size. He took those into account in his writing assignment.
E-is for Elephant
Tot- We have a subscription to Zoo News, a monthly magazine by San Diego Zoo, so we scoured it for pictures of elephants. Elle pointed them out and I cut them to be collaboratively taped onto a piece of paper- collage style. I wrote the word “Elephant” in the middle and discussed big E and little e.
2nd grader- Oliver was asked to look up the word elephant in our Children’s Dictionary and write the definition to be written underneath his free-hand drawing of an elephant. With the definition we were able to point out its tusks, environment, and size; these learned characteristics carried into his drawing.
F-is for Fish
Tot- I cut out a fish shape from an old paper plate and 1x1 inch squares of tissue paper. We all talked about scales together, and I help her glue each one on until she lost interest and just wants to throw the tissue paper and run around with the fish.
2nd grader-Ollie was asked to cut out his own fish shape and glue his on in more of an over lapped, scale fashion. We then predict and research why fish need scales. He also initiated a list of fish breeds he knows, which was very impressive.
G-is for Gummies in the Grass
Tot and 2nd grader-Nothing fancy here. Both the little and big kid agree that Amy’s bunny gummies are the best snack in the world. We talked about the letter G, other things that start with G, multiplication facts using the number of bunnies in the bag, but mostly sat in our backyard and enjoyed this coveted snack together. Not surprisingly, my daughter was able to spit out G is for Gummy for all family members when asked over the next several weeks- the other letters, not so much.
H- is for Horrifying Hat
Tot and 2nd grader- We save all of our Halloween costumes, mainly because I’m hoping that they’ll be recycled and the $50 swamp monster will be more than a single-use attire. Today they all came in handy. The kids scoured through the overflowing box and put together awesome combo costumes. I then asked them to tell me a story about their characters. It ended up turning into an impromptu role play that lasted for hours. My son drew and wrote a comic book with his character afterward. Bonus reading and writing time!
I-is for Ice cream
Tot and 2nd grader- Ice cream is novelty in our house. My dad, Paw Bear to the kids, has ice cream every night and is a steward of ice cream consumption. The kids were super excited about this one. You can make your own ice cream if you are ambitious; we decided to watch this episode of How Stuff is Made including Ben and Jerry's creation process, and I set up a mid-day ice cream buffet. It was magical.
J-is for Jumping
I remember going on of my son’s well check appointments and the doctor asked if he could jump. Great questions, doc! I watched his first jump right there in the doctor’s office. For my second, I have been jump-focused since she could walk, and we have the trampoline to prove it.
Tot and 2nd grader- Jump the Creek, Jumping Obstacle Course, Jump Rope Contest, Who Can Jump the Highest?
K-is for King
Tot and 2nd grader-My daughter is really into royalty, everyone is a king or princess; I built off that interest and used the letter K to make crowns and learn about a real royal family together. We used paper, glue, and writing utensils to create the crowns. Eleanor glued on sequence pieces for decoration. For my son, we used measurement (how many inches, cm is your head and your sisters, compare). Oliver had recently learned about King Tut stepping into his role at an early age so we read a bit about young royalty-very interesting. This research led to the inevitable question: What would you do if you were a king? Always fun to discuss together.
L-is for Lots of L Words
Tot and 2nd grade- When we sat down to chat about the letter L, my son poured out L words; they’re just so many! I set out some play dough and we crafted some of the L words we could think of: lips, lollipop, and lizard. The kids loved guessing mine, Ollie made a few, and Eleanor guessed then made play dough soup.
M- is for Music
Ok, this was hands down my favorite day. First off-I put on some drum circle tunes to set the mood. I pulled out a few toilet paper and paper towel roles, dried beans and rice, and tape. Oliver was assigned to measure the circles at the bottom and top of the rolls and Elle poured the rice and beans. We danced and played our instruments for quite a while. It was a perfect activity for a rainy day.
N- is for Nest
Our daily walks have naturally turned into a nature collection. Most days my pockets are filled with twigs, flowers, rocks, and pine needles. It gave me the idea to construct a nest together. We used all our findings with glue to shape into nests. While constructing we talked about how birds use nests and the bird life cycle.
O- is for Otter
Oliver has had an affinity for otters for years and the kids have really been into building forts. We piled our blankets, pillows, and even a yoga bolster to form an otter den. While snuggling in the den we read River Otter at Autumn Lane and discussed otters living in lakes and rivers and often take over old beaver dams to make into their own homes.
P-Pictures, Family Picture Album
We’ve done this activity several times since the quarantine. My husband and I moved to California from North Carolina so our family is far away and it’s been one of the most difficult parts of the pandemic. Printing pictures and organizing them into a photo album, led by the kids, has prompted many memories and smiles together. Eleanor will dictate the pictured event and Oliver will write down the caption in the album.
Q-Quiet Time, Spa Day
Homemade masks made with avocado and banana, painting nails, outdoor reading, and cucumber on the eyes while listening to nature sounds. All this after a good episode of Cosmic Kids.
R- is for Rain Collection
One of Oliver’s last projects for school featured a Venus flytrap and the instructions stated that it would thrive if given rainwater. We checked the weather and set up cups and marked measurements, later filled with rain and given to Snappy. Eleanor filled and poured water and counted along with us to be shared with the rest of our yard vegetation.
S- is for Store
Money has been a hot topic for Oliver, in both math practice and life. Eleanor’s favorite toy has been Lakeshore’s cash register and has moved all her tea party supplies to be store products ready to scan and price. It seemed natural to set up a store for them. I taped price tags on some pantry items and set them out, Oliver brought toys he was willing to sell to his sister. I gave him a pencil and paper to act as cashier. Eleanor loved choosing and adding her items to her shopping bag. A repeat activity for sure!
T- is for Talk
Two cans. One string. We did it. Oliver was tasked with embedding the hole with a nail (his favorite part) and Eleanor tested out how loud one might yell in the cans (her favorite part). After construction, the kids positioned themselves behind corners and talked. Afterward, we had a discussion about listening and the process of vibrations making it to and from our ears.
U- Under the Sea
Aquariums are one of our favorite spots. We decided to make our own aquarium equipped with octopus, fish, star fish, sea horse, and more. I placed mini sea creatures in kinetic sand so Eleanor could find them then Oliver created an aquarium map and glued each one in their spot.
2nd grade-Oliver loves cars and building. We worked together to construct and paint a wooden model car. He loved it and it was easy enough for him to do it mostly on his own.
Tot-Eleanor loves her Melissa & Doug, block building train set. She sat with Ollie and painted her train and discussed the parts that make it go while big brother built his car.
W- Who, What, Where, Why?
Eleanor has started to say, “I gotta ask you a question” and she respond with, “I want some milk.” It infuriates Oliver that her announcement doesn’t follow the promised question. Oliver set up a mini lesson for Eleanor to explain the difference between a comment and a question. Writing questions is a big part of the second-grade curriculum so it was a nice recap for Ollie too.
“I have something back here!” Eleanor said touching her back. “Yep, that’s your spine,” I responded. This led to our discussion about bones. We have a beautifully illustrated and interactive book about the human body a neighbor gave us, but you can also print out a picture of a skeleton that will work, too. For Eleanor we discussed the bones that she could feel in her body; what body parts they support; and connectivity in the skeletal system. For Ollie, he researched not only the bones but the muscular system and digestion.
Y- Young Inventors
Inventions are a daily discussion in our house; time machines, border line dangerous roller coasters, and robots to feed the dog. I found this great collection of young inventors article, printed it out and cut the words and pictures. Ollie read and matched the title and picture to the young inventor descriptions. Eleanor enjoyed learning about various machines in the pictures while Oliver did most of the matching.
Z- Zig Zag
Lines are a key foundation in art. We talked about Picasso and his famous pieces of thought-provoking bodies made with a single line. For Eleanor I used a chalk board to show straight, wavy, curly, and zig zag lines. For Oliver, I asked him to come up with his own drawing using various types of lines. (Lesson inspired by artattack.com).