At Martha Currie Elementary in Surrey, BC, kids from kindergarten to 5th grade are playing together before and after school. This rapidly disappearing tradition – mixed age play -- is key for social and emotional development.
As Professor Peter Gray, one of Let Grow’s founding members, explains:
Age-mixed play is qualitatively different from play among children who are all similar in age. It is more nurturing, less competitive, often more creative, and it offers unique opportunities for learning.
At Martha Currie, students can play one day a week after school from 2:30 – 3:45, and one day a week before school, 7:45 – 8:30. A quarter of the 600 kids are doing one program or the other.
The results are clear. Kids are making new friends and playing with different kids than they normally would at recess, when they only had their own age kids around. One pickup basketball game included kids from age 5 to 10, and some older alumni boys stopped by to play with them, too!
Why does this matter? In addition to fun, the younger kids learn to hold themselves together so they don’t look like babies to the older kids. That’s the foundation of executive function. The big kids, meantime, exercise leadership and teaching skills as they accommodate the little ones. Those are all great skills, and at the base of them is empathy.
One boy who’d started the year playing by himself, joined a Frisbee game with a couple of other boys after a few weeks. Mixed age play matters because an awkward 9-year-old with few friends can be a hero to gaggle of 6-year-olds, completely changing his self-image, even while honing his social skills.
Creativity abounds, too, when kids have more free time together. As one teacher put it while watching a group of kids in the sandbox, “A whole Leprechaun village can be created in an hour!”
Watch our Let Grow Play Club video to see mixed age play in action. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how your school can get kids interacting, helping, making new friends and solving problems in a whole new way.