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For many of us, this summer feels like what the Wall Street Journal called “the Great American Reunion”—a season filled with chances to reunite with the people and community spaces we love and missed during the pandemic. Summer weekends, especially long ones like Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day, get filled with the kind of group get-togethers we could only have dreamed of in 2020. Though this all feels so good, we may be a bit out of practice with one aspect of group shindigs—how to entertain groups of kids that are at different ages and stages.
Though kids can find a way to have fun anywhere, if you’re hosting or helping to plan a get together, it can help to have some activities in your back pocket—especially activities that are versatile and open-ended enough to engage and appeal to a wide range of ages. Mixed age play and learning is what we do at Tinkergarten. So, to help, here are a few of our favorite games or activities to offer at your next mixed-age soiree.
Please note that, though we include age ranges as a guide, each child is unique and there is so much variation within one age. Don’t be afraid to try one of these and let kids take it in whatever direction works for them—even if that means that they move on to other things!
You can never go wrong with round things! Gather up all of the balls you’ve got—include balls of different sizes and colors. Round things spark joy and naturally invite exploration. Somehow simply having a whole lot of them in a bin, on a blanket or just around in the yard provides an invitation for group play. If you don’t have a lot of balls, ask guests to bring their favorite ball or even ask to borrow neighbors’ balls.
Want to suggest some ways to play with the balls? Here’s a few favorites:
Babies and Toddlers:
Preschoolers and School-Aged Kids
The Olympics might not be happening yet, but it’s never a bad time to get silly! Try some of our favorite ways to get silly in our Silly Olympics DIY activity. You can even turn them into events around the yard or park where you’re gathering. Welcome kids and adults to try them together, guide just the kids through the events or just let families or kids wander around and try the events that appeal to them.
There are so many reasons that hide and seek has been around for thousands of years—and it scales so beautifully with age. We’ve gathered up our favorite variations on the game and organized them by age: 0-2 years; 3-5 years; and 6 years +.
As long as kids can run and can understand what it means to be tagged and to sit down, this game can work for a really large group! Basically everyone is it—all the time. As you all run around, everyone tries to tag other people. Once someone tags someone else, the tagged person sits down. That tagged person stays sitting down until the person who tagged them gets tagged. Then, they are back in the game trying to tag people again, and on and on. There’s also a great way to manage disputes. If two people think they tagged each other at the same time, a quick round of rock-paper-scissors breaks the tie.
With the right objects and open-ended invitations to play, kids of all different ages can play happily alongside or even collaboratively in the same space. For centuries, kids have played, learned and grown up in mixed age groupings. And, research tells us that younger children learn a wide range of skills from older children and older children benefit from the chance to learn to care for others and be leaders when younger kids are around. Read more about the benefits of mixed age play.