Maybe it’s kids from the neighborhood coming over on the weekend, a sibling that joins for a playdate, or a birthday party where all are welcome, but sometimes when children get together to play, everyone is a different age. What might be a fun theme or activity for a group of two-year-olds often won’t work for a group of five-years-olds. The key in these situations is to have different stations of different activities, do a big activity that works for any age range, or spend lots of time outside.
Setting up stations at a party or playdate is a wonderful way to break up the space and ensure that everyone has something to do. You can use arts and crafts for varying ages at a few stations – for example, by setting up paper, crayons and popsicle sticks on the floor in one area for the younger kids, and bigger pieces of paper on the kitchen table with watercolors for older kids.
You can do something similar with cooking or cookie decorating stations – make the one at a lower height simpler and the ones on the kitchen counters a little more intricate with icing tools and different frosting. The more options you offer for moving around and seeing the different activities, the more likely it is that a child of any age will latch onto something that they’re excited about. Other activities that do well being put into stations include: beads, a grownup or teenager in charge of face-painting, cupcake decorating, music stations with instruments, “make a fort” room, bingo with an adult leading, a game corner with all the games out and set up, and a quiet section for people who need a break or want to talk quietly. At the beginning of the party or playdate, explain all the stations to the children attending and explain that they’ll be taking turns moving through them.
There are a handful of activities that will work in most situations even if the age range is two years old to ten years old. One example is a pinata, and pin the tail on the donkey, a giant tarp for painting together, movie night, dressing up and putting on theater, a lego room with different sizes for small and big kids, scavenger hunts with partners, and cooking a meal together where different tasks are assigned based on age are also good cross-age activities.
If you can go outside, the outdoors are a great way to host a playdate or party for a wide variety of ages. As with the indoor stations, creating outdoor ones works nicely as well. These might include bubbles of different sizes so the little ones have smaller ones and the bigger ones have the larger sticks for giant bubbles; water pouring stations lower to the ground for the smaller kids and a place to run and slide for the larger kids; perhaps a scavenger hunt with partners outside; a tie-dye activity with shirts of different sizes; sidewalk chalk; a lemonade stand where everyone works together and shares the profits for an afternoon; or an ice-cream bar on a picnic table where everyone helps.
Having a wide variety of activities is a great way to ensure that each child, no matter their age, has a small section of the house or yard to do something that brings them joy. Keep the activities moving and have a few adults on hand for conflict solving and clean-up help, and your mixed age playdate or party may not even cause you much stress as the host.