When planning activities for mixed-age groups, there are a number of considerations to make. Keeping all children safe, engaged, and supported takes a lot of practice and skill! Thankfully, there are a number of ways to provide individualized experiences within one activity to meet the needs of all children.

  1. Safety first: Modify the environment so infants and toddlers cannot access choking hazards that older children may be using. This might involve baby gates or having the older children work on an inaccessible tabletop while infants and toddlers work on a lower surface.
  2. Plan for complexity: if you are planning a painting activity, have different materials available to accommodate and build on different skill sets. Infants and toddlers can fingerpaint, while preschoolers and school-age children can use brushes of different sizes and experiment with purposeful color mixing.
  3. Allow for “helpers”: preschoolers and school age children can feel pride and competence when given tasks to help adults– especially to distinguish themselves from the “babies.” Giving older children the responsibility of helping to maintain their own materials (washing paint brushes, putting away blocks, wiping up spills) is beneficial for their development and will help them feel ownership over the space and materials.
  4. Make a “yes space”: There are going to be times that the older children need more attention or are engaging in an activity too complicated for toddlers. Having a smaller space where the younger children cannot get into the older children’s activities becomes important at these times. While it must be in a space that can be supervised at the same time as the older children, it should be fully child-proofed and stocked with items that will keep the younger children’s interest.

With all of the challenges working with mixed age groups can present, there are so many benefits for the younger children, who get to spend their days with role models, and the older children who get to practice being compassionate and caring friends.