4 Tips for Mixed-Age Play

Parker Barry
  • 1. Create opportunities. Host play dates with your kid’s friends and invite their friends’ siblings. Involve your kid in group lessons that are based on skill progression, rather than age. Make birthdays and holiday celebrations family events by inviting everyone — younger and older sibs of friends and their parents. (Mixed-age play that includes parents, too, can be fun for kids and adults).
  • 2. Let the kids decide what to play. Kid-directed free play, games that kids invent with their own rules and imaginative play are often the best mixed-age play scenarios. Adding too many adult-created rules in games such as board games or win-lose races may take away the creative space kids need to accommodate one another’s differences, which they will often do in kid-directed mixed-age play.
  • 3. Set and enforce basic ground rules. Just because a child is a different age doesn’t mean that they get to knock over the sand castle or throw tantrums until the more mature child (which isn’t always the older child) lets them have their way. No matter what a kid’s age, no playmate should be destructive, unkind or dangerous. This is where adults can be the most helpful by establishing, explaining and reinforcing clear, age-appropriate ground rules.
  • 4. Be realistic. Not all kids will gel at every playtime. There will be frustrations, disagreements and fights. Encourage fairness and friendship; observe and coach when necessary. Like any relationship, mixed-age playmates will have good and bad days, but kids can learn from ups and downs, whether older or younger.


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