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Benefits of Mixed-Age Learning in Early Childhood Classrooms

Early childhood classrooms are full of wonder and joy as children learn new skills while moving through the stages of play; the secret catalyst for learning. How children are grouped in a classroom is often given much demographic consideration (age, gender, English language learners, students receiving special education services.) Most classrooms are designed by age group first, which means that students who turn 3 by a certain age are grouped in one classroom, students who turn 4 by a certain age are grouped in a classroom and so forth.

So what is mixed-age or multi-age grouping in early childhood classrooms? This is when children who are between certain ages, for example, 3-5 are placed in the same classroom. This is not a new concept as formal schooling began in one-room schoolhouses. Children of all ages learned alongside and with one another. These children also often worked and played together in their neighborhoods, helped one another out and learned a great deal from these interactions.

Although there are a number of unique opportunities and benefits to mixed-age or multi-age classrooms, they seem to be rare outside of Montessori or Head Start programs in the United States. School and center-based administrators who rethink this arrangement of children can transform the lives of not only their students and families but also educators.

Benefits of Mixed-Age Early Childhood Classrooms

Younger children:

  • Learn classroom rules and routines from looking up to their older classmates.

  • Gain confidence in risk-taking with encouragement from their classmates.

  • Are exposed to advanced language and literacy.

  • Engage in more complex play which develops higher mental functions.

Older Children:

  • Gain opportunities to practice patience and empathy with their younger classmates.

  • Develop independence and self-esteem while playing with their younger classmates.

  • Develop leadership skills by mentoring younger children.

  • Develop confidence through opportunities to play with developmentally similar children (especially those with developmental delays).

Early childhood is a precious time in human development and giving our students the greatest opportunities for success is critical to their growth as a human being.

Written by, Dr. Jessica Hammond- Educational Leader, Adjunct Professor at Purdue University Global, Rutgers University and Education Evangelist at Elevate Educators LLC

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