Big Kids Helping Little Kids

Big Kids Helping Little Kids

I grew up in a big Irish family with 11 cousins who span 20+ years. Whenever we spent time together, the little kids would disappear into the arms of a big kid. The big kids would play with the littles, make sure they had snacks, and show them all sorts of fun things. My cousin, Tony, who is six years older than me, showed me how to throw knives  (safely) when I was nine. He also gave me my first mix tape when I was ten. I have fond memories of carrying my cousin, Briela, on my hip when I was 12 and she was a baby. My oldest cousin, Tad, would stay with us for weeks in the summer, giving my momma a break and showing us the ins and outs of a good game of croquet. My kids are some of the youngest of the next generation of cousins; there are 20! They grew up being thrown about by their bigger cousins (2nd cousins, but we’re Irish, so same-same). When I was 17, my cousin had her first baby. I would occasionally babysit her. Years later, she worked here as a teacher, and when she wasn’t working, she would take my oldest climbing. This is all to say that I don’t think kids are meant to grow up only playing with kids their exact same age. There is so much to learn from bigger kids and so much for bigger kids to learn from caring for and playing with younger kids.

Little kids can see where they’re headed. They can visualize what they might be like a few years later. Big kids learn to lead and be gentle and careful with their words and actions. Research shows that when big kids get the opportunity to teach, it solidifies learning and new skills.

We’re finishing up week two of summer camps here at the shop. Our camps are like a one-room schoolhouse for arts and crafts. Kids ages 5-11 work in the same space. Nothing brings me more joy than seeing kids who have grown up coming to the shop now showing the littles the ropes. This year, we’ve hired three former campers as assistants. We have an internship program as well. This means we have kids ages 5-16 in the shop, all taking on teaching and learning. It’s pretty magical. The big kids know that we hold our shop values in high regard. Kindness comes first. Failure is part of the process. We help each other. Making things is a community affair.

Many caregivers have become afraid of allowing big and little kids to be together. I get it. We’re scared the big kids will expose the littles to things they shouldn’t know. But, what if, as adults, we help guide the big kids to lead, to be the best versions of themselves, because the littles are watching? The big kids remember what it felt like to be little, not knowing how to do the things they now know how to do. There is a genuine and intrinsic reward for big kids to teach and care for the younger kids in their midst. We don’t force it, the older campers are there for a good time, but sometimes it’s just a ten-second interaction where a big kid shows a little how to make an attachment or tie a knot that makes everyone feel connected.

Learning in community and multi-generational groups are entirely human. We are meant to learn and lead simultaneously. Humans of all ages have gifts and skills to share. I feel so grateful to give folks a place to make it happen.

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