As the youngest of four kids, my toddler has a lot of people to look up to and imitate. Lucky for him (and me) his older siblings adore him. One of them is almost always interested in playing with him, however, although their intentions are wonderful they’re not always hip to the rules of toddler bliss. Teaching them some games toddlers love helps keep playtime happier for everyone.
I started keeping a list of what worked for indoor active games so that I could offer tried and true suggestions when things began to go awry. Here are some of our favorite physical activities for helping older children play with toddlers.
Most of these active games will be familiar to you with just a little twist to make it fun for both big kids and toddlers.
Related: Find our favorite Sensory Activities for Toddlers here.
Six Great Games for Toddlers and Older Siblings
Follow the Leader
Help your older kids demonstrate a fun action series (start with just two and build as your toddler is ready) such as shuffling your feet for a few steps and then jumping. Encourage the older kids to tell the toddler what they are doing as they do it, such as “shuffle, Shuffle, SHUFFLE, JUMP!”
Let your bigger kids choose an animal to act out and see if the toddler can be that animal too. A great way to get this game started is to sing Old Macdonald Had a Farm and have every one act out the animals.
Parachute Toddler Games
All it takes is two or more people, a toddler and a sheet for these two activities.
Gently billow a sheet or parachute above a toddler for an enchanting place to crawl around in. Occasionally you can sink the sheet down to the floor for just a moment before popping it up for a rousing game of peek-a-boo.
Place your toddler in the center of a sheet laid out on the floor have everyone grab a corner or edge of the sheet and ripple the sheets inward toward your toddler. Start softly and slowly, you can always get more vigorous. I was genuinely surprised just how vigorous my toddler liked this, definitely a game that requires my direct involvement to be sure it doesn’t get out of hand.
The big kids love this – singing songs, making up new ways to play, and their brother just laughed and laughed.
Ball Games with Toddlers
All of my toddlers have loved balls, in fact ball is currently my youngest’s favorite word. When helping my older kids play ball with my toddler I find it helpful to have several balls out to minimize frustration. The next time you find yourself sitting around with a few minutes to spare and a couple balls try one of these games.
Play catch but instead of tossing and catching one ball keep several going. Keep it relaxed as you toss balls from person to person and take turns tossing or rolling one ball to the toddler as they cruise around the center of your game. (This is also a great game for including people of varying levels of physical coordination.)
Go Bowling: Ask your older kids to create bowling pins out of blocks, stuffed animal, action figures, containers from the recycling been really anything can work as long as the big kids won’t be upset when they are knocked down. Then show your toddler how to roll a ball toward the items. It can take a bit of experimentation to find the right ball to knock over the “pins” so it may be helpful to have several on hand of different size and weight. For a fun variation try human bowling- ask your older kids to be the “pins” and help you toddler roll a large beach ball (or other big, soft ball) at them, when the ball touches one of the big kids they can dramatically fall to the floor.
The energy I put into helping my older kids play successfully with their youngest sibling has has really paid off.
They are not only gaining skills and self confidence but their relationship with each other continues to blossom.
More Toddler Activities to Love
- Find more active games for toddlers in our list of the Best Board Games for Toddlers. (Hint – they don’t usually actually have a “board”).
- Or get bouncing and spinning with our Best Indoor Active Toys.
- For an entire list of toddler activities we find delightful, be sure to see all the things to do with toddlers on the Toddler Years Must Do List.
Alissa Zorn is an author, and founder of the website Overthought This. She's a coach and cartoonist passionate about helping people overcome perfectionism and shame to build authentic, joyful lives. Alissa is certified through the International Coach Federation and got her Trauma-Informed Coaching certification from Moving the Human Spirit. She wrote Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection, Not Perfection, and is always following curiosity to find her next creative endeavor.