With time constraints and less available safe community play spaces, age mixing in neighborhood play has declined. Besides sibling play and playing with cousins during family get-together, the opportunity for age mixing of children from varying backgrounds and cultures has minimized.

Aftercare at some schools (dependent on whether this too is segregated according to ages and grades) can offer a wonderful space for children from various ages to play together, with minimal adult interference, allowing for more child initiated play to occur.

The benefits of age mixing for the older child include:
  • Learning to lead in play
  • Negotiating, problem solving and adapting the game if required, to ensure that all players’ needs are met and that they are having fun so that the game can continue
  • Regulating younger players’ feelings through perspective taking and empathy
  • Learning to teach. Explaining and teaching games, concepts or rules to younger players in a clear and concise manner. This requires them to break down, sequence and explain components of the game, tapping into various cognitive and language skills.
  • Allows the opportunity to find playmates at a similar ability level (possibly a younger playmate) to practice skills they may be struggling with, in a safe and non-judgemental space.

The benefits of age mixing for the younger child:
  • Learning through observation and imitation
  • Co-regulation and support from older players -The older child, is able to ‘upskill’ the younger child through explanation, demonstration, practice and grading the difficulty of the activity as the younger child improves.

For example, imagine two three-year olds trying to bat and throw to each other. At this age they do not necessarily have the ball skills and ability to grade how fast and straight to throw the ball so that the other is able to hit successfully. However, enter a seven-year old with more ball skills, coordination, social skills and perspective taking who can organize that they take turns and he/she then throws the ball in a softer, straighter path to ensure success and there you have it!

There lies magic in the transfer of knowledge and play skills from ‘play experts’ that aren’t adults, but rather older playmates. This benefits not only the younger child, but as discussed in the previous post, allows the older child opportunity to work on various skills as well.


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