Toy reviews

How my family of five kids learned to bond and connect through play

Michele Phillips of What Dreams May Become wants her kids to be more than just siblings—she wants them to be friends. See how these toy sets brought her family closer together.

One of the neatest things about having a large family is witnessing the different dynamics and connections develop between members. I grew up in a family with sisters who were five years older than me, and always buddied up together. When I was still playing pretend and rocking baby dolls, they were hanging out with friends at the mall.

In our family, the kids are all about two years apart—with the exception of the twins, of course, who are only three minutes apart, although born on different days! And even though we had them all back to back (I’m still so tired), our oldest is still more than six years older than the youngest, who are still only four years old. So, there’s definitely still a gap.

When Steve and I sit back and observe as the kids play, we’ve noticed that they tend to team up with those closest in age; that’s just the way it goes. Years from now, when they’re adults and the age gap becomes irrelevant, their relationships will change, with common interests and compatibility all playing a role in the bonds the siblings share.

Michele Philip's kids develop sibling bonding in real time playing with LEGO Duplo sets

I’ve been thinking a lot about what keeps us all connected, and I think that at the root of it, we all simply want to feel seen and heard, liked and understood. It’s no different between the kids—they want to feel supported by their siblings, when it comes to their ideas, games and play.

So, this year during the holidays, one of our goals is to focus on things that connect our family, especially anything that will bring the little ones together. “Team Building” exercises if you may. And as part of following through on this, we got the twins a LEGO Duplo set each. Meadow got the Frozen Ice Castle (a movie she LOVES) and Cove got the Submarine Adventure set.

Michele Philip's kids develop sibling bonding in real time playing with LEGO Duplo sets

After school one day, I put the kids into teams to help the twins put their new sets together (Levi, age eleven, with Cove; nine-year-old Dion and six-year-old Harlan with Meadow).

It was so neat to watch them work through the challenge of collaborating as a team to achieve a goal. One of the older kids would read the instructions, while another would find the missing building block in the pile, handing it off to the builder. The LEGO Duplo sets really encouraged them to have patience, show leadership and build communication. It might be easier to do things yourself, but there’s so much to gain from teaching others.

Michele Philip's kids develop sibling bonding in real time playing with LEGO Duplo sets

Because they spent quality time together while completing the activity, it seems that the kids genuinely value these little sets so much more—making them the perfect holiday gifts. The twins wouldn’t even let me get rid of the boxes; instead, when the older three went off to school the next day, we cut little doors and windows into the cardboard and they played with them together for hours. As a Mom, there is nothing better than listening to little ones play contently using their imaginations in the next room.

It’s these little things in their life that will one day paint the big picture.

Read more:
This parenting podcast host tested the season’s hottest toddler toy

This is the best toddler toy to gift this holiday season
These toy sets are the answer to all of your holiday gift-giving worries

Stay in touch

Subscribe to Today's Parent's daily newsletter for our best parenting news, tips, essays and recipes.