Mixed Age Classrooms
What are the benefits of mixed age classrooms in early learning?
- Mixed age classrooms support children in developing at their own pace. Between 3 and 5 children’s development is at it’s most diverse in all areas - language, cognitive, social-emotional, gross and fine motor, in addition to their diversity in terms of temperament, family culture and experience outside the home.
- Teachers and parents, in a mixed age classroom community, are more likely to direct their attention and efforts on effectively understanding and supporting each child’s unique development. This focus also builds community and a sense of belonging for the whole group, by reducing competition and comparison.
- Children’s social and emotional development is key to all future learning, and is strengthened through supported long-term interactions with all types of diversity, including age ranges.
- Regular routines and responsive relationships decrease stress and therefore increase learning. In mixed age classrooms children may remain with the same teacher and many of their friends for 2 years.
- Mixed age groups resemble family life - all children experience being the youngest, the middle and the oldest. Children who have the opportunity to learn and to teach between children, not exclusively from adults, retain more knowledge at the level of mastery, instead of just exposure.
- Mixed age interactions sharpen receptive and expressive communications skills in all children.
- Being in a mixed age classroom reduces the frustration children feel when they are expected to master something they are not developmentally ready for, or not given the opportunity to do what they are developmentally ready based on an age label. For example, imagine the effects of rushing, a child learning to crawl, walk or speak! Or alternatively, delaying a child who is ready by not giving them the opportunity.
- Some of the Benefits Particular to Younger Children
- Higher rates of participation in complex play
- More sophisticated expressive language (descriptions, vocabulary, conversations)
- Exposed to more mature problem-solving strategies
- View themselves as strong and supportive members of classroom community
- Benefits Particular to Older Children
- Development of responsibility, leadership, and pride
- Builds empathy, ability to nurture, problem-solving skills
- Motivation to model positive social behavior
- Children experiencing difficulty regulating their own behavior improve when encouraged to help younger classmates
Research on Mixed Age Classrooms
Many major child development theorists, including Maria Montessori, Vygotsky, and Piaget, have some writing and theories based on mixed age groupings, currently, Peter Grey is a leader in this area. A rich article, with extensive notes can be found here:
Aina, Olaiya E. Maximizing Learning in Early Childhood Multiage Classrooms: Child, Teacher, and Parent Perceptions. Early Childhood Education Journal, v28 No. 4, 2001.
Bredekamp, Sue and Copple, Carol. Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs. National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1997.
Katz, L.G. Twins in School: What Teachers Should Know? ERIC Digest, Champaign, Il: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, 1998.
Katz, L.G., Evangelou, D. & Hartmann, J. A. The Case for Mixed-Age Grouping in the Early Years. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1990.
Kinsey, S.J. Multiage Grouping and Academic Achievement. ERIC Digest, Champaign, Il: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, 2001.
Lloyd. Multi-Age Classes and High Ability Students. Review of Educational Research, v69, #2, 187-212.
Roopnarine, J.L. &Johnson, J.E. Approaches to Early Childhood Education. Ohio: Merrill Prentice Hall, 2005