By Kelly Miller
In one of my previous nanny jobs, the girls I cared for played together wonderfully although three years apart in age. They really enjoyed being together. The oldest taught her younger sister a lot, and vice versa. In fact, their mother once remarked to me that she is thankful I taught her girls to be friends.
Children can learn a lot when they play with children of a variety of ages.
Lilian Katz, director of the Educational Resource Information Clearinghouse, said, “The more competent kids teach younger children, and the younger kids can learn by example.” She cites that younger children often engage in more complex activities than they might otherwise.
When the oldest child I cared for was four, and her sister was one, we played dramatic play on a daily basis. Their favorite thing was to be the Ingalls family. The youngest girl learned about pioneer life in this way. In fact, they went to a Laura Ingalls Festival at a bookstore. Most of the children there were schoolage, and the teacher asked questions about pioneer life. Mary, then 2, raised her hand and knew the answers. If she had played with children her age, it would not have been at this same level of play.
Socially, there are benefits as well. Children can become less competitive, because they learn to tolerate different ranges of ability.
As a nanny, it is easy to plan the same activities for mixed ages; the younger children just need more help and guidance, which the older children and nanny can provide. For an example, older chidren can cut, glue, etc. for an art project, while the younger child needs an adult to cut things out for them.
What if your child (or the child you are caring for) does not have a sibling? They can still benefit by being involved in mixed aged playgroups and playdates.