Childhood education research* indicates that children in multi-age classroom settings derive multiple benefits, especially social, intellectual, and communicative when enrolled in such an early childhood experience. Research also suggests that children associate different expectations by age very early. For example, preschoolers will modify their behavior when trying to comfort a baby versus a same-age peer. Even a three year old assigns different attributes and behavior to the picture of a younger than an older child. By the age of four, children themselves feel pressure to match their age-mates in many behaviors and abilities.
The following is a summary of the List of Benefits for both the younger and older child in a mixed-age group. The staff of Lambs of Grace Preschool believes that the social and intellectual benefits of a mixed-age group of 3s, 4s, and 5s outweigh those of a single age classroom.
In a Mixed Age Group (compared with same-age groups), children:
- are more likely to be seen as individuals by the teacher
- are less likely to be rushed to conform to whole group rules and routines
- are less likely to be compared with and pressured to be at the same place as age-mates on developmental milestones
Mixed Age groups offer older children in the group opportunities to:
- exhibit leadership (less confident children feel less threatened when attempting leadership roles in mixed-age groups)
- develop nurturing behaviors
- develop cooperative behaviors
- practice and polish social skills with younger friends so these skills are used with greater confidence with their own age mates
- practice self-regulation
- sharpen communication skills
- strengthen their abilities to “explain”
- learn graceful ways to respond to demands of younger children
- gain perspective
- appreciate the efforts of younger children
- be flexible
Mixed Age Groups offer younger children in the group opportunities to:
- learn nurturing, cooperative behaviors from the examples of older children
- learn to appreciate their own capabilities and accept their own limitations
- sharpen communicative skills by taking note of the characteristics of others around them
- participate in more complex play
- learn about taking turns and other rules of play
- observe more mature problem solving behaviors
In a multi-age classroom the teacher’s responsibility to the individual child is greatly enhanced. Research has shown that in multi-age classrooms, a teacher is more likely to see a child as an individual rather than just a member of a classroom group. Having a multi-age classroom situation a teacher is able to observe the child’s growth over a two-year period, in every area of development. There is less need for a “getting to know you” period each fall. Teachers find it encouraging to see the growth and maturity development over the summer months of children they have already grown to know so well.A family unit is an excellent example of a multi-age group, and at Lambs of Grace Preschool we become a specialized extension of a child’s family each day they attend preschool.
- Katz, L. G. Evangelou, D., and Allison, J (1990) The case for mixed-age grouping in early education. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
- Allison, J., and Ong, W. (1996) Advocating and implementing multiage grouping in the primary years. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 24(2), 18-24.
- Lally, J.R. (1998). Brain research, infant learning, and child care curriculum. Child Care Information Exchange, May/June 46-49.