There are many advantages to kids of different ages playing together. Besides being lots of fun, it’s a great way to encourage social/emotional learning for different ages. Let’s take the example of a simple game of kickball that has an “everyone plays or the game ends” rule.
The older kids flex their adaptive thinking muscle to change the rules of the game so the younger kids can participate. If there’s a disagreement about what the new rules should look like, they use their problem-solving skills to find a workable solution. Then the older kids use multi-level communication to tell the younger kids the new rules, show them how to perform the needed moves, and coach them throughout the game. While they play, the older kids are learning to better understand the experiences of the younger kids and to step outside their needs and consider the needs of others.
The younger kids learn just as much. They’re feeling accepted, included and an important part of the game which builds their self-confidence. Some are learning to overcome their hesitation, anxiousness and fear around trying something new in front of others. They’re gaining confidence in their skills and abilities. They’re observing and trying out boundaries, learning what’s appropriate and what’s not in different situations, and improving their ability to read social cues from a variety of people.
These are all lessons that adults can talk about with kids and can model for them, however there’s no substitute for the organic lessons that come with multi-age play.
So while kids need opportunities to play with other kids their own age, they also need opportunities to play with kids older and younger than they are. It’s both fun and full of learning!