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Mixed age grouping in Early Years settings

I really love the idea of family grouping or mixed age groups in a setting.

It happens naturally in settings where there is limited space for segregation, such as in a community centre or in a church hall. I have been lucky enough to see this in several settings and seen some great advantages.

For example, social interactions take on a whole new level, with more experienced (not necessarily older) children leading the way with organising games, sharing, turn-taking, ‘they learn to be both leaders and followers’.

Language can be greatly enhanced. Children with more vocabulary and advanced sentence structures become great role models for less advanced children, especially where there is an age gap of 24 months or less.

You’ll hear in my interview with Kim Hunter, a Canadian award-winning teacher, on Early Years TV talk about her setting and the children playing in their groups. She discusses a couple of advantages in particular:

  • Children who are more familiar with the setting and their rules enforce the rules naturally with the other children.
  • Children can help each other with transitions, even micro transitions. For example, stopping play and coming to the lunch table or coming together for circle time.

When this is happening naturally, Kim says that the teacher’s role is to ensure that the learning is positive and that children aren’t leading each other astray!

However, there is one challenge which is often cited with mixed age groups – meeting the needs of all children. How can the resources be provided that will both ‘stretch and challenge’ the older children, and still be developmentally appropriate for the younger children?

It is possible to be able to do this. I’ve witnessed some amazing practitioners and environments that do provide for all ages together. This is often through open-ended resources, such as blocks and block play, where children could use the blocks in a way that met their own needs at that time.

Another way to do this is to have loose parts, such as planks, logs and crates. These can be used to set up physical challenges that are appropriate for the ability of each child, for example, different types of obstacle courses.

Of course, it should also be remembered that children of exactly the same age are likely to be at different levels of development in different areas. Some three-year-olds may be using scissors competently and without help, but some six-year-olds may still need to learn that skill.

Although this is not a new concept – just one of many examples here: Evangelou, D. (1989) – it is still being actively researched today: Winsler, A, Willson-Quayle. A, Caverley, S. and Latorre, M. (2002).

Personally, I think this is something worth reflecting on if you’re making changes. Maybe two mixed-age rooms would give you better prosocial interactions, language development and role models? And is a good way to keep siblings together in the setting too.

Maybe worth a thought?

You can see Kim Hunter’s interview on Early Years TV for free from Friday 26th July to Friday 2nd August: Kim Hunter on Early Years TV. As an Early Years TV Premium member, you’ll have access to the video all the while your membership is current.

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