Benefits of Multi-Age Preschool Room
Knowledge-Building and Skill Development: Younger children learn from older children. Older children reinforce and deepen their own understanding of a topic or skill by teaching it to the younger kids. This knowledge is passed on in a variety of ways:
Unintended modelling – when an older child is just doing something they want or need to do, not attempting to teach (like using the potty or drawing a picture of a dog). The older child may not even be aware the younger child is observing and absorbing. “Nothing is more interesting to a child than another child who has the skills that he or she wants to acquire” (Merrick, cited in Panko)
Social play: The younger ones are exposed to things like better emotional regulation and more sophisticated problem-solving which helps them learn these skills earlier.
Casual mentoring. When an older child wants the younger one to participate in a game or activity, she will just quickly explain it to the younger one so they can have fun together. When the older one is slowed down by the younger one’s lack of knowledge, sometimes they move in to help rather than waiting for the teacher to help.
Intentional teaching. Sometimes teachers will ask a child who has mastered a skill to teach it to a child who hasn’t yet mastered it. (Sometimes this is an older child teaching a younger child, but it can also be the other way around, as children gain skills at diverse ages.) The learner benefits by gaining information in a way that may be more fun and more confidence-building than learning from an adult. The child who is teaching has the chance to review his own knowledge from a new perspective, and practice mastering skills.
If older kids give incorrect information, the teacher can correct it, and both kids benefit – the teacher has discovered the older child’s misconception, which she otherwise might not have known about and makes sure both kids know the correct info. (This can remind the younger child that we’re all learners, and we can all make mistakes.)
Individualized curriculum, tailored to children’s unique skills, not just their age
A good multi-age program is child centered. Projects and assignments are tailored to the needs and interests of the children as individuals.
Children are more able to learn at their own pace, making continuous progress rather than having to “wait till second grade, when we cover that.”
Children stay with the same teacher for multiple years.
The teacher gets to know the child’s strengths and weaknesses, and is better able to tailor the lesson plan to meet that child’s unique needs.
There is a stronger parent-teacher relationship.
For the child, there’s the benefit of consistency, and a sense of safety and security in the classroom which enables better learning. (Assuming the teacher and child are a good match – if not, then your child could be stuck in a non-ideal situation for a while.)
Benefits in year-to-year transition: youngers have less anxiety about moving up, because they can see what comes next. Olders gain confidence as they can see how far they’ve come. Big kids feel like “grown ups.”
Less competition / labeling.
In a single age classroom, it’s easy to compare kids and say that some are gifted, some are delayed. In a mixed age classroom, it may be clearer that there’s a range of development: the one who does best in math class may have the hardest time in music class, regardless of age.
A child who struggles more with social skills might be ostracized by their age peers, but might find companionship in the younger kids in the classroom.
Better for a variety of kids:
Better for those August / September birthdays. In single grade groupings, parents end up deciding at age 5 whether their child will always be the youngest or the oldest in a classroom. In a multi-age program they have the opportunity to be in the younger half one year, and the older the next.
Better for gifted children. They can be pushed to achieve their potential with an individualized curriculum.
Better for children with learning challenges. Challenged students may have more self-esteem because don’t always feel like “the dumb one” in the class.
A more cooperative, caring learning environment.
Older kids learn to be patient, nurturing, responsible. (With guidance from the adults!)
Role-modelling. The older children learn how to set a good example.
Less misbehavior: Students are less likely to misbehave in multiage groups than in single-age classrooms (Logue, 2006 as cited in Song, et al 2009) “When the teacher asked the older children who were not observing the class rules to remind the younger ones what the rules were, the older children’s own “self-regulatory behavior” improved.” (Katz)
Prepares children for work in the “real world” where co-workers are varying ages and experience levels.
Research consistently shows that on standardized testing, children from multi-age classrooms perform as well or better than their peers in single-grade classrooms.
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