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Benefits of Mixed-Age Learning Environments

Did you know? When children play with other children who are older and younger than them, there are benefits for all age groups, even the adults!



"The main thing is that the groups should contain different ages, because it has great influence on the cultural development of the child. This is obtained by the relations of the children among themselves. You cannot imagine how well a young child learns from an older child; how patient the older child is with the difficulties of the younger." - Maria Montessori

Mixed-age groupings are not common in our education system, but there are many great reasons why mixed-age classrooms and early learning spaces should happen more often!


The types and amounts of relationships and learning that is possible with a diverse age range is phenomenal. Let’s take a look!


Here are 4 Benefits of Mixed-Age Learning Environments:


Nurturing

Have you ever noticed how an older child instinctively becomes a nurturer to a younger child? In imaginative play the older child may take on the role of parent or teacher, protector or hero, while caring for and supporting the younger child. A mixed-age group provides a real context for children to practice and strengthen their natural dispositions to be nurturing. In the same vein, mixed-age groupings help children improve their self-regulation skills. When older children nurture and remind the younger children about guidelines and behaviours, the older children will exhibit better self-regulation themselves.


Cognitive Growth

Imagine the range in skills and knowledge you would come across in a group of children aged 3-6. We know there is often a big difference between these ages! These differences give each child a chance to observe, emulate, and imitate other children who may be competent in ways different from them. Older children become scaffolders for the younger children, meaning that they enhance and support the younger children’s play and cognitive skills through collaboration. As scaffolders, the older children also have a chance to practice and master skills. A mixed-age group stimulates both older and younger children’s thinking.


Social Play

The types of play that happen in mixed-age groupings encourage younger children to spend less time in parallel play (playing alongside rather than with other children) and more time in interactive and complex play. The older children initiate the more complex play and the younger children are able to participate and contribute. Children can acquire new social skills and concepts while participating in cooperative social pretend play. Younger children can help older children who may not be as socially mature to feel accepted and included.


Self-Esteem

Every child develops at their own pace. How many times have we compared what our child can do at age 2 versus our friend’s child at age 2? So many times! Mixed-age groupings are spaces for greater acceptance of varying abilities, developmental levels, and social capabilities. With a wider range of behaviours and performance among mixed-age groups, children are more likely to be accepted and tolerated by adults AND themselves! Mixed-age groups enhance children’s self-confidence and offer an opportunity to practice acceptance and support.



Inspired by The Case for Mixed-Age Groupings in Early Education by Katz, Evangelou, & Hartman (1990).


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