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Playground Equipment Blog
Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Growing Together: The Importance of Mixed Age Groups in Developmental Play

One of the best things about age-inclusive childhood play is that it provides an opportunity for younger children to learn from their older peers. And likewise, older kids, as they teach their friends the ropes, learn important lessons in teaching, patience, and empathy.


By interacting with kids of all ages, children learn teamwork, tolerance, social skills, and more importantly, a slew of exciting new games. Read on to discover the developmental benefits of mixed-age play and fabulous games your whole tribe can play.


Benefits for Older Children


Mixed-age play allows older children to take the reins and try on a leadership role. For instance, babysitting and interactive play provides them with important skills they can take into adulthood, as well as newfound maturity and a sense of responsibility. Another excellent example of this dynamic appears in tutoring and homework help. Did you know that studies show that by teaching younger peers, older kids reveal increases in measurements of responsibility, empathy, and altruism? They also solidify their knowledge of school subjects. As Phil Collins says in the iconic song from the movie Tarzan, “In learning, you will teach, and in teaching, you will learn.” Mixed-age play provides essential life and developmental skills for kids at every stage.


The Benefits for Younger Children


Young children will learn by example and attempt games and tasks that seemed intimidating without an older peer to guide them. For instance, shy or nervous kids might be more inclined to swing with no booster seat when their older brother or sister gives them a friendly push. Active play, like basketball, vertical climbers, and rock walls are less frightening with an older friend to catch them.


Mutually Beneficial Development


In a sense, mixed-age play can facilitate “good clean family fun.” Because older children are forced to be mindful of their young companions, they’re more likely to be gentle, fair, and compassionate during playtime. And younger kids will benefit immensely from the opportunity to learn and grow with a wise pal by their side. Games are likely to be less competitive, dangerous, and more focused on teamwork. That is, as long as parents lay out some safety guidelines ahead of time.


Communicating Clear Expectations


It’s important for parents to set out rules for children before they interact with other age groups. Here are some handy rules of thumb:


  • Respect each other’s boundaries.That means respecting their physical space and not pushing them to do anything that’s truly uncomfortable. Sure, it’s okay to encourage friends to overcome, say, a fear of heights and go down the spiral slide. But help children to be mindful of the fact that everyone develops at their own speed.
  • Emphasize the importance of teamwork and sharing.Encourage children not to dominate one another in sports, especially when a younger child is just learning the ropes or struggling with coordination. And urge children to share toys and accessories. When playing on playground structures, reiterate the importance of following proper safety guidelines. And parents, it’s a good idea to seek out play structures and parks that accommodate a wide range of age groups and interests. Look for playsets that feature social and creative toys, as well as physical “events” like bridges, tunnels, crawlers, and slides. For children who need ADA accessibility, ground-level activities are ideal.
  • Praise kids when they succeed. Children are going to make mistakes. Being gentle and respectful of other people’s needs and abilities takes time and practice. When your child does an excellent job of playing well with others, give them positive reinforcement. It’ll encourage them to keep up the excellent work.

Great group games for mixed-age play:


  • Crafts and creative play - Artistic activities are fantastic because they can be modified to accommodate different age groups. For instance, toddlers can fingerpaint while older children follow along to painting tutorials on Youtube, employing paintbrushes, sponges, and found materials to express themselves. The same principle applies to dough and clay modeling, toothpick construction, and blocks.
  • Hide and seek - This is an excellent game for younger kids because they can use their tiny statures to their advantage, while older kids search for them. It’s relatively safe, requires minimal effort, and can be played indoors or outdoors. Just make sure you establish boundary zones and articulate any off-limits areas ahead of time.
  • Playground bonding - What is sweeter than watching an older child patiently show a young friend the ropes? Not much. Older children gain a sense of responsibility and pride from pushing tots on the swingset or demonstrating slide-riding abilities for a nervous friend. They’ll learn empathy and compassion—some of the most essential skills.

We want to hear from you! Do your children enjoy playing with kids of all ages? How has it benefited your family? Sound off in the space below.
Written by: Parker Jones

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