Playmates of All Ages: The HUGE Benefits for Your Child’s Wellbeing

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Growing up,  I used to love going to Ireland for my Summer holidays and playing with all of my cousins, where kids of all ages played together freely.

One hot sunny day, I found myself joining a game of tag with children ranging from five to fifteen years old. I was around eight at the time, and the older kids seemed like giants to me.

As the game progressed, I quickly realised that being the youngest had its challenges, especially when trying to outrun the older, faster kids! But, I also discovered something unexpected. Some of the older kids took on protective roles, making sure I wasn’t left out and teaching me tricks to improve my running speed and agility. They were kind and encouraging.

One teenage cousin called Siobhan even became my unofficial mentor for the game, showing me the best routes to take and cheering me on as I dodged and darted around obstacles. Her encouragement gave me the confidence to keep playing, even when I felt tired or outmatched.

What struck me most about that day was the sense of camaraderie that developed among us. Despite our age differences, we were all united by the shared joy of the game. We laughed together, cheered for each other’s successes, and learned from one another.

That afternoon of mixed-age play taught me valuable lessons about teamwork, perseverance, and the importance of inclusivity. It showed me that age is just a number when it comes to having fun and forming meaningful connections. It’s an experience I’ll always treasure as a reminder of the power of play to bring people together.

This happy memory got me thinking about the way kids play today.

The rise of smartphones and digital technology has significantly impacted the way children interact and play, often leading to concerns about reduced face-to-face interaction and the loss of traditional play experiences. I think mixed-age play can serve as a valuable antidote to some of the challenges posed by the digital age.


Here’s how mixed-age play can make a huge positive impact on your kids, for you to ponder:

Balancing Screen Time with Physical Play:

In today’s digital era, children are spending more time on smartphones and other electronic devices, which can lead to sedentary lifestyles and reduced physical activity. Engaging in mixed-age play encourages your kids  to put down their screens and engage in active, imaginative play, helping to balance out their screen time with physical play.

Social Skills Development in a Digital World:

While smartphones offer convenient ways to communicate and connect, they can also limit opportunities for face-to-face interaction, which is crucial for developing social skills. Mixed-age play provides children with the chance to practice interpersonal communication, empathy, and cooperation in real-life settings, skills that are essential for navigating both online and offline relationships.

Creativity and Imagination:

Constant exposure to screens and digital content can stifle your kid’s creativity and imagination. Mixed-age play, on the other hand, encourages loads of imaginative play scenarios, storytelling, and creative problem-solving, allowing  your children to explore their creativity freely without the constraints of digital interfaces.

Cognitive and Motor Skills Development:

Physical play and interactive games in mixed-age settings promote the development of fine and gross motor skills, spatial awareness, and cognitive abilities. These are essential skills that may not be fully developed through just passive screen time.

Building Meaningful Relationships:

While smartphones offer ways to connect with others digitally, they often lack the depth and intimacy of face-to-face interactions. Mixed-age play fosters genuine relationships and connections between children of different ages, helping them build empathy, understanding, and respect for others, qualities that can be challenging to develop in digital-only relationships.

Creating Tech-Free Zones:

Encouraging mixed-age play can help establish tech-free zones or times where your children can disconnect from their smartphones and focus on interacting with others and their surroundings. This can promote mindfulness, reduce screen dependency, and encourage a healthier balance between online and offline activities.

The Enormous Benefits

Mixed-age play, where children of different ages interact and play together, offers numerous benefits that contribute to  your child’s social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development.

Social Skills Development: Mixed-age play allows children to learn how to interact with peers who may have different skills, interests, and abilities. This helps them develop empathy, cooperation, and communication skills as they learn to navigate diverse social situations.

Enhanced Emotional Development: Playing with children of different ages teaches kids how to manage their emotions, resolve conflicts, and understand different perspectives. This can lead to increased emotional intelligence and resilience.

Cognitive Growth: Mixed-age play encourages cognitive development as children engage in imaginative play, problem-solving, and creative thinking. Older children can often help younger ones understand concepts, while younger children can bring fresh perspectives and creativity to play scenarios.

Boosted Self-Esteem: Younger children often look up to older ones as role models, which can boost their self-esteem and confidence. Older children, in turn, gain a sense of responsibility and leadership skills as they guide and mentor their younger counterparts.

Language and Communication Skills: Interacting with peers of different ages can help children improve their language and communication skills. Younger children often learn new vocabulary and language structures from older children, while older children can refine their communication skills by explaining concepts to younger ones.

Physical Development: Mixed-age play provides opportunities for children to engage in a variety of physical activities that cater to different skill levels and interests. This can help improve motor skills, coordination, and physical fitness.

Cultural Awareness and Acceptance: Interacting with peers from different backgrounds, ages, and abilities fosters cultural awareness, acceptance, and appreciation for diversity. This can help children develop a more inclusive and open-minded worldview.

Conflict Resolution Skills: In mixed-age play settings, conflicts are bound to arise. This offers children opportunities to learn and practice conflict resolution skills, negotiation, and compromise, which are essential life skills.

So,  what if you don’t have lots of family, cousins or an vibrant community of kids to play with?

Neighbourhood Parks: Local parks often attract children of all ages, providing a natural setting for mixed-age play. Playground equipment, open fields, and picnic areas offer diverse spaces where children can interact, play games, and engage in physical activities together.

Community Centres: Community centres often host recreational programmes, workshops, and events that cater to children of various ages. These venues can be great places for children to participate in group activities, arts and crafts, and sports that encourage mixed-age interaction.

School Playgrounds: School playgrounds are bustling hubs of activity where children from different year groups and classes come together during playtime and after school. These settings promote spontaneous play and socialisation among children of various ages.

Family Gatherings: Family events and gatherings bring together relatives of all ages, offering children opportunities to interact with cousins, siblings, and extended family members. These gatherings often involve group games, storytelling, and shared activities that foster intergenerational connections.

After-School Programmes: Many after-school programmes and clubs welcome children from different ages, providing structured and supervised environments where they can engage in educational and recreational activities together.

Summer Camps: Summer camps offer a variety of programmes and activities that cater to different age groups. Whether it’s hiking, swimming, arts and crafts, or team sports, camps provide opportunities for mixed-age play and learning in a supportive and inclusive setting.

Playgroups and Playdates: Organised playgroups and informal playdates can bring together children of various ages in smaller, more intimate settings. These gatherings allow children to develop friendships, share toys, and engage in imaginative play together.

Library Storytime Sessions: Public libraries often host storytime sessions and other educational activities that attract families with children of different ages. These events encourage children to listen, learn, and interact with peers in a mixed-age setting.

Sports Leagues and Clubs: Participating in community sports leagues and clubs can expose children to mixed-age play experiences while teaching them teamwork, sportsmanship, and healthy competition.

Volunteer Activities: Engaging in volunteer activities and community service projects can bring children of different ages together to work towards a common goal, fostering collaboration, empathy, and a sense of community.

It might be just about thinking ‘out of the box’ and looking for simple ways to get your kids off their smartphone and out mixing and playing with other kids of all ages, as mixed-age play really does offer a rich and diverse learning environment and really benefits your kid’s  well-being and mental health as it fosters real life social connections. Through fun and laughter it builds memories that last a lifetime – like mine!

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