Let me set the scene. You have somehow miraculously managed to organize your week nice…
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Whether you have a big age gap between your children, or your besties kids aren’t the same age as yours, there will be times when you want to encourage play with kids of different ages. Not only will you get a moment to have uninterrupted adult conversation, or enjoy a few sips of coffee, but the benefits of mixed-age play are significant! So how can you make this magic happen?
4 Tips to Encourage Play with Kids of Different Ages
Find the Right Setting
Before playtime even starts, you can set things up for success with the right setting. My ideal playroom is an enclosed space where anything “extra special” or breakable has been put away out of reach. It has a big open space with no tripping hazards or sharp-cornered furniture, and all of the available toys are age appropriate.
Finding the Helper
This works especially well when one of the children is very young. We have family friends with a 2-year-old, and my 9-year-old loves being her “babysitter” (with parents still around, of course). She will follow the toddler around, chatting with her, and encouraging her to play with different toys. The toddler, in turn, adores my big girl. It’s a match made in heaven! Kids of a certain age almost always love feeling “grown-up” when asked to be the helper with younger kids. Give it a try!
Find Common Interests & Compromises
Sure their ages may be different, and they may like to do different things, but you can often find common interests to bridge the gap, or different interests that have a way to overlap. Whether it’s music, or dinosaurs or building things, kids of all ages are more likely to engage in an activity that they wouldn’t normally like, if it has a common interest at its centre. A child who loves to read, and a child who loves to hunt for bugs, may find a common interest in reading a book about bugs. A child who wants to put on a fashion show, and a child who loves dinosaurs may come together if there is a dinosaur costume involved in the fashion show. You may have a big kid who loves building elaborate castles, and a toddler whose buildings are somewhat more simple – they can still bond over their shared love of building. Use your imagination!
Hover over the image above to find our favourite toys for mixed-age playdates at Walmart
Find Toys with Multiple Uses
This is the holy grail of mixed-age play. With a little creativity, you can find multiple uses for almost any toy. With my girls, who are 10 and 5, they love assembling building sets, like PLAYMOBIL together. This can keep them entertained for hours! They often receive them for birthdays or Christmas, but every once in a while we’ll pop over to Walmart and let them choose one to bring home. It’s a whole learning experience when we go; we set a budget beforehand, and they have to look at the prices and figure out how much they can spend. They know how to find a staff member in the blue shirt if they can’t find what they’re looking for, and the Walmart staff are always so helpful! They were super excited to learn, on a recent visit, that Walmart now carries PLAYMOBIL sets! Once they’ve made their choice, then they go to the cashier and pay for it themselves too. They learn, and feel all grown up at the same time. Win-Win!
Once we bring it home, it’s fun to see how each of them enjoy the same toy in different ways. My 10-year-old gets very serious and concentrates on the instructions and building things properly. My 5-year-old, on the other hand, digs out all the people and animals and accessories and immerses herself in imaginary worlds. PLAYMOBIL sets are perfect to cater to both of their styles of play. Don’t forget, side-by-side play is hugely beneficial too. Kids don’t always have to be engaging directly to have fun and gain social skills.
PLAYMOBIL also has amazing real-world sets, like firefighters and ambulances, but my girls prefer the fantastical. My 5 year old often gets carried away, especially when she’s playing with ferocious dinosaurs, but thankfully the PLAYMOBIL sets are incredibly durable and high quality. The attention to detail is amazing. The girls loved that one of the scientists came with a little laptop, and that the dinosaur had movable arms, legs, and jaw.
The number one question people ask me when I’m sharing about my girls is “How well do they play together with a 4 1/2 year age gap?” Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be difficult at all. With a little setup, and a lot of encouragement, kids of all ages can play really well together. Great toys like PLAYMOBIL help make it that much easier! Check out their social hub to see all the amazing realistic and fantasy-based sets, plus find #PlaywithPlaymobil inspiration for your next playdate!
How do you encourage play with kids of different ages? Share your ideas and tips in the comments below!