Why is play so important for infants and children?
Physical play is important for children’s overall learning, development, and confidence. When playing with other age groups, children learn how to develop friendships, learn from others, and improve their understanding of the world around them. Multi-age play teaches young children how to talk and negotiate, problem solve, as well as adapt behaviour to many different situations. It also allows children who are more skilled to provide leadership and support to younger or less capable children, giving a sense of responsibility.
It allows infants and children to:
- Build confidence.
- Develop an understanding of the world around them.
- Develop social, language, and communication skills.
- Develop physical skills.
This is referred to as observational learning. Younger children learn by watching those around them and then copying the behaviours they see. Older children also see and copy positive behaviour.
How to encourage multi-age play?
To encourage multi-age play, it is important to create a safe environment that caters to all ages. This not only eliminates the difficulty of managing multiple, divided activities but increases the likelihood of safe play, avoids children feeling left out and allows children to play for longer.
It is important to note that multi-age play does not come without difficulties. It is likely that children will be at different stages in their development and therefore require adult supervision to help facilitate the learning and play. Some challenges that could occur include older children overwhelming younger children; older children not being stimulated enough; or frustrations occurring. Regardless of these challenges, children will continue to grow and develop key skills.
- Provide a selection of toys that can be used and enjoyed by various ages. This might include items such as wooden blocks, dress ups, and soft toys. Older children will still enjoy this type of simple toy and younger children can play safely.
- Explain the needs of younger children to the older children. This allows the older children to feel a sense of responsibility and hopefully ensures the enjoyment of both the younger infants and older children.
- Encourage and support the younger children while they play, especially if they are taking part in an activity that might be challenging. With supervision and support, the younger children can feel good and gain confidence doing more complex activities.
Examples of multi-age play activities:
- Sensory play: sandpits, play dough, sound tubes.
- Arts and crafts: colouring books, playing with stamps, stickers, and painting.
- Playing outside: hide and seek, hopscotch, nature play (for example collecting leaves and flowers, outdoor scavenger hunts).
- Music and Dance: ‘Simon says’, free dance to music; heads shoulders knees, and toes song.
For more game recommendations and tips to encourage multi-age play: