Many families have kids of various ages living in their household, not to mention the epic play dates which always seems to double the numbers and the fun. But anytime you have a group of different levels and ages, it can present a bit of a challenge when planning games and activities that are appropriate for all involved. However, with some simple preparation and a little bit of creativity, kids of all ages can enjoy playing with each other safely.
Things to consider before planning activities for mixed-age groups
Before you put the troops all in a room together and say “go” there are a few things to consider. The following suggestions will help the activity go smoothly and keep them coming back for more.
- Prepare and present one activity at a time, then adjust it to fit each child: Try to focus your activity to fit the ability level of the middle range of the group (in other words, for children in the middle range, the activity should not need any modifications). Then you can simplify the activity for younger children, and add a few challenges to make it more exciting for the older kids.
- Choose materials that appeal to different ages: Blocks, balls, paint, crayons, play dough, different sized paper, chalk, stickers, tape, and glue sticks are just a few items you might want to include. And if you can, try to provide larger sized crayons and markers for small fingers and softer and easier-to-manipulate balls and blocks for smaller hands.
- Choose materials that are safe for all ages: When planning these activities don’t forget how much young children love to put things in their mouths. If you’re using art materials, make sure they are non-toxic, and if you have any small objects for the older kids that could be choking hazards for the younger ones, make sure an adult is supervising.
- They learn from each other: Younger kids learn how to do things by watching and listening to the older ones, and the older kids benefit from taking the time to teach the activity. Encourage the older kids to support and be patient with the younger kids and remind the younger kids to give their older siblings and playmates some space and time to do their own thing.
Examples of mixed-age activities for younger kids
- Open-ended drawing: If you don’t have a large piece of paper, tape together regular sized paper and give the kids some markers, crayons, and colored pencils. They can work together on a team drawing or come up with their own idea. If the kids are having trouble getting started, a parent can draw some lines, shapes, and squiggles for them to work from. Drawing a city together is the kind of project that gives plenty of space for children at different levels to work together on a bigger project without getting in each other’s way.
- Building a fort: Chairs, tables, blankets, sleeping bags, pillows – pretty much anything can be used for building a fort. If you have empty cardboard boxes (especially larger ones), these make for great hide-outs. The older kids can be the leaders and oversee the fort being built by the younger ones.
- Finger painting: Set up an art easel outside and let the kids make a mess! If the weather is not cooperating, place large pieces of paper on a craft table and use clothespins to hang their work to dry.
- Paper plate faces: Use plain white plates with popsicle sticks glued to them, and offer the chance to glue on glitter or beads, yarn, and stickers for eyes. Then finish up the designs with pens and crayons. The kids can play games with the paper plates covering their faces.
- Obstacle course: Gunny sack races with pillowcases, balloon tennis (tape a plastic spoon to the end of a paper plate for your tennis racket and blow up some balloons to act as the ball and hit the “ball” back and forth), tunnels to crawl through (pool noodles make great skeletons for these), set up cones for them to weave in and out of, use two-by-fours as balance beams to walk on, lily pad jumps (place mats about 1 foot apart and kids have to get from one to the other without their feet touching the ground.
- Puppets: Decorate paper bags to use as puppets or use sock puppets and have them put on a puppet show for each other.
- Musical activities and dancing: Such as drumming with buckets and sticks or playing freeze dance.
- Sensory table: If you have one of these gems, you can fill it with beans, play dough or modeling clay, sand, and water (fill with toys) for hours of multi-age fun. And if you don’t have access to one of the specially designed tables, you can use a large plastic tub and place it on top of a low table.
About the author:
Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer focusing on parenting, health, and wellness. She is passionate about all things fitness and health and loves spending time with her husband, daughter, and son.