Call to Action: Mixed-Age Play

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MIXED-AGE PLAY

Many of our children are only interacting with kids their age, in school and extracurriculars. But mixed-age play is common in other cultures and has wonderful social-emotional value. 

An older child practices leadership and perspective-taking, for example. While a younger receives peer role-modeling and steps up their skills and sophistication in a way that doesn't happen around adults. And as we know, free play is a landscape for growth, often invisible and under-appreciated.

How do we facilitate mixed-age play?

1. Find olders or youngers in your neighborhood and facilitate initial contact. Then step back. For many of us our modern, urban culture isn't organized in a way for this to happen 'naturally', so a parent can consider this choice in lieu of a structured sport or activity.

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2. Find activities that offer mixed-age opportunities. There are plenty of summer camps where mixed-age interaction is built-in to the day. During the school year, however, it can be harder to find those options. Consider times in your child's day and week when they might get to interact across ages and prioritize it as part of how you make plans.

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In age-mixed play, the more sophisticated behavior of older children offers role models for younger children, who also typically receive more emotional support from older kids than from those near their own age. Age-mixed play also permits older children to learn by teaching and to practice nurturance and leadership; and they are often inspired by the imagination and creativity of their younger playmates
— Stuart Brown, PhD