When I accepted the role as Director of Tower’s Extended Day program (Club T.E.D), I was excited to give students the freedom to imagine, build and create their own activities and unwind from the day. In the past few months, though, I’m more certain than ever that children who spend time in Club T.E.D. gain so much more than after school care, they gain the broad-reaching benefits of playing with kids of all ages.
Psychologist and Research Professor Peter Gray asserts that “mixed-age play is qualitatively different from play among children who are similar in age.” He notes that it is “more nurturing, less competitive, often more creative and offers unique opportunities for learning.” Advantages for younger children include the opportunity to learn from activities that they could not do with same-age friends. He adds that “when older children explain rules, strategies, moral principles, or other concepts to younger ones, they have to make their implicit understanding explicit, which may lead them to re-examine what they thought they already knew.”
As the Director of Club T.E.D, I witness examples of this learning every day:
A second grader can often be found sitting in front of an audience of Pre-K and Kindergarten students reading a book. He reads with such animation, even acting out some parts while the younger students hang on his every word, absorbing vocabulary and reading skills along the way.
The board game, Sorry!, a favorite in Club T.E.D, offers another great opportunity because kids of all ages play it together. I enjoy watching older students figure out how to explain the rules of the game to younger students in understandable terms. Meanwhile the younger kids are practicing their counting skills as they move their pawns across the board.
Football is a popular activity. Initially, I arranged two games, separating the players by age, and discovered that the two groups naturally gravitated to each other which made the game more interesting to everyone. The older kids are careful not to engage in rough play and do a great job throwing the ball gently to the younger ones. Additionally, the Pre-Kindergarten students who normally became frustrated when playing with kids their own age found that being able to catch the ball made the game infinitely more fun!
It’s this connection that is at the heart of why Club T.E.D is so valuable for children. It’s a place where Pre-K students are builders, second graders are readers and fourth graders are artistsーbut more importantly it’s a place where they all learn from each other.