Theory of Mixed Age Play
Mixed age play offers opportunities for learning and development not present in play among children of the same age. Research shows that mixing of children of different ages in early childhood centres has many advantages. It has an impact on a child's cognitive, social and emotional development. When two year olds play with five year olds they use more complex forms of symbolic play or pretending.
Mixed age play can enlarge a child's vocabulary and their ability to empathise. A mixed age environment has a very stimulative effect on infants particularly. They can learn various social and cognitive skills from imitating preschool children, even from just watching them play and interact. The behaviour/play of older children offers role models for the younger children who receive more emotional support from older children than they would from children their own age.
Mixed age play also permits older children to learn by teaching and to develop their leadership skills. There doesn't even have to be a big age difference in order to see the benefits. Four year olds can raise the level of play for three year olds. Toddlers with older playmates in mixed age groups score higher in language, cognitive and motor development than toddlers in otherwise similar age segregated groups – measured by the Battelle development Inventory.
Children by nature want to do what older people do – this is how they grow. Five year olds who see older children reading books, playing ball and climbing trees want to do this and they integrate these activities into their own play, even when they are not directly playing with the older children.
At Kiddiwinkles Care and Learning Centres we celebrate the value of mixed age play, offering opportunities to children whenever we can – it's a wonderful time for siblings to meet, play together and share emotional support during their day.