5 Reasons to Welcome the Big Kids at the Playground

5 Reasons to Welcome the Big Kids at the Playground


By Gail Hoffer-Loibl of Maybe I’ll Shower Today

The shifting energy is palpable. Smiling mouths tense up into half frowns and eyebrows furrow in disgust. In the distance, the shrieks grow louder as the pounding of footsteps on pavement gets closer.

The big kids have arrived at the playground. They are warriors, storming up the slides and laying waste to villages in their path. They are jungle predators, bounding from monkey bar to monkey bar. They have come to claim their territory back from the chubby fingers and stumbling feet of the under five set.

Dread is now the main emotion emanating from the guardians of the little ones. Big kids mean shoving, running and pushing. Big kids mean having to be extra vigilant lest our toddlers get caught in their path. For many, big kids mean it’s time to go.

But not for me. Big kids mean inspiring my son to accept new challenges. Big kids mean delving into further depths of imaginative play. Big kids mean the grownups stepping away and letting the playground morph into its own beautiful chaos.

I love when the older children come to the playground. Often, I seek them out. In this age of constant worry for our littlest ones, I think we need to stop sulking when the school bell rings and the parks are no longer just the home for tots. Here’s why:

Children need risk to grow. Older kids provide the perfect outlet for discovering new challenges. My 3-year-old is a skilled runner and climber thanks in large part to observing the behavior of kids above his age group. I am always close by to ensure his safety, and my son knows when something isn’t right for him, but if he never saw a bigger kid climb a ladder or swing on the big swings, I’m not sure when he would want to try it.

Adults hang out in mixed age groups, so why can’t our kids? I am 33 and have good friends ranging from their 20s to 50-plus. Though we have varied experiences to draw from, we can still find ways to learn from one another. Kids are no different. The older ones encourage the little ones to excel, while the younger ones can teach the older guys some much-needed patience. Our lives are enriched through the diversity of the people who surround us.

Older kids deserve play time. We lament the loss of the “good old days,” when kids didn’t need all of these scheduled activities and would just play. Yet we get upset when they run around the playground while our small kids are there. If you ever read the label on the structures, you would see that most are meant for kids older than five. This isn’t to say younger kids can’t use them, but let’s remember they are for the big kids, too. It’s also just as easy to move an 8-month-old off of a slide as it is to yell at a 7-year-old to look where she is going.

When clear rules are established, older kids can give parents a much-needed break. If a group of elementary aged kids take my older son under their wing, I am able to better attend to my 1-year-old. Of course, I check in to be sure everyone is safe and behaving appropriately, and I am consistently amazed by the maturity of those children. I have seen seemingly untamable 10-year-olds turn into cautious nurturers.

Sometimes, parents just need to back off. Stop me if this sounds familiar: You are at the local playground and every structure is crawling with adults chasing after children, making sure no harm shall fall upon their precious darlings. I have definitely been that parent. When the older kids arrive, there is no place for parents, enabling a natural hierarchy of play to ensue.

Next time the older kids arrive at the playground, don’t scoop up your toddlers and preschoolers. Stay a while and appreciate seeing children being children. We all complain about kids growing up too fast, so let’s embrace the 7-year-olds, the 10-year-olds, the 13-year-olds and beyond and appreciate their wishing to hang on to childhood just a tiny bit longer.


About the Author

Gail Hoffer-Loibl is a freelance writer whose work has been featured on Scary Mommy, The Huffington Post, Blogher, Mom Babble, The Good Men Project and more. She shares her thoughts on parenting, motherhood and raising boys on her blog, Maybe I’ll Shower Today. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.