There are many differing views on the use of multi age settings within Early Learning settings within Australia. Many of these views have developed over time with the intention to reduce harm to younger children and to ensure children are constantly and actively engaged in their settings.
These emerging views cause issues for our children for a variety of reasons including;
over stimulation, unable to enjoy the quite and stillness in life,
an expectation that all children at the same age are at the same learning stage,
reducing the acknowledgement of the contribution diversity has within our community,
children that are at different learning curve are often left feeling incompetent and useless, children's resilience is diminished,
sense of community and family are undervalued.
In addition the many benefits of multi age settings are not being experienced by children, including;
children learn to see themselves are progressive successful learners,
children are seen as unique individuals by educators and not an age group that all have the same abilities and experiences,
children develop into a family of learners who support and care for each other,
children are more likely to care than compete,
children develop more advances social skills,
children embrace diversity of knowledge and language,
children learn everyone is able to be a leader.
There are specific implementation concepts that are unique to centres that engage in a multi age centre. For effective engagement of a multi age program educators need to offer flexible spaces that enable children to learn effectively. In addition, educators must enable children to lead their own learning. Children need to engage in areas that may not have been designed with them in mind. By educators who need to see what that child is seeking to learn. An example of this is when a child wants to lead or guide other children. Many preschoolers will find it easier to engage younger children prior to attempting to lead same age peers. Moving children away from activities that were developed with younger children in mind while planning would prevent this experience for a child. Multi age settings must employ a child lead approach.
Some of the benefits of a Multi Age Groupings in Early Learning Experiences
Children spend longer periods of time with the same educators. This enables educators to develop a deeper understanding of the child's strengths and needs, as a result educators are better equipped to support the child's learning endeavours.
Children will have the opportunity to connect with a wider range of educators, which will also provide them the ability to experience a wider range of skills and expertise among educators to support their interests. Having one or two educators that can have a knowledge base on all children's interests is inherently challenging. In multi age settings children are able to move between educators as their interest focus changes. This enables children to view themselves as progressive and successful learners and to learn at their own rate instead of being labelled according to their perceived ability.
Children develop a sense of community with the other children within the program. They become a community of learners who support and care for each other as a family would.
Older children have the opportunity to provide mentor support to younger children and peers equally. This enables all children within the program to experience leadership and assist children to learn about the varying types of leadership within our community and that you do not need a title or authority to lead, but a shared vision with others.
Children are engaged in their own learning journey and those of their peers, by making choices about their learning. This ownership and self-direction is the infrastructure needed for the love of life-long learning.
Children are more likely to co-operate than compete. The cooperation and caring for each other within your community, and not just those that are the same as you (in age or ability) enables children to assist each other as individuals.
Older children model more sophisticated approached to problem solving and younger children are able to accomplish tasks they would not otherwise be able to complete without the assistance of older children. The sense of accomplishment is heightened for all of the children when they are able to complete a task without having to ask an adult for assistance. This dynamic increases the older children's level of independence and competence.
Older children also benefit from seeing the resilience and determination of younger children when learning how to master skills. As young children learn to crawl, walk, speak, draw, etc. they do not give up or become defeated, they just keep trying. This focused determination often wanes as children grow up and forget these skills. Having younger children model these attributes remind older children of the need for and benefits of resilience.
Children are exposed to positive models for behaviours and social skills are generally more advanced for children in multi aged settings. The need to communicate and engage with people of varied levels of understanding, communication and development enables children to develop stronger social networks and cues within their community.
Children are more confident when they participate in multiage programs. Children who participate in same age programs often feel uncertain and apprehensive when faced with situations that are not familiar or without friendship groups. Children who experience multi age settings learn quickly there will always be people around them that have varied abilities and that is normal and does not detract from their inherent confidence in their own ability or their performance in an unfamiliar environment.
Educators have great teaching moments as children learn about others. While in early childhood services there is naturally some conflict over toys or equipment, we do find that mixed-age grouping lessens this as the four-year-old has needs and interests that are often not shared by the two-year-old.
Mixed-age grouping allows less confident preschoolers to mix with younger children and over time build their confidence in mixing with same age and older peers. These children often find this less stressful as they are not expected to match their peers’ behaviours and abilities and so they avoid the competitiveness that does arise within groups of preschoolers. This also works well for children who have developmental delays as they are able to play with peers of similar abilities and interests and avoid some of the frustrations they may otherwise face.
Children’s language development is fostered as older children role model for younger children and surround them with language of different levels and complexity. They are able to modify their language, behaviours and expectations based on the ages and understandings of the other children. In turn they become adept at ‘reading’ younger children’s non-verbal clues and responding accordingly.
Mixed Age learning offers children life long benefits to their same age peers. To provide children and their families the benefits of multi age learning environments is imperative to ensure children develop into strong, gentle, capable, confident, trusting, engaged members of community.
As educators we are aware that not everyone shares our thinking and ways of working. Many see risks and these include fears that older children may overwhelm younger children, older children may be under stimulated as the range of experiences is limited and younger children inhibit their plans, or younger children may be influenced by older children and grow up too quickly. We have found these fears are no different to other ways that children are grouped, as even in children who are grouped by age there is a wide range of skill level, maturity level and experiences that impact on how and where children play and how they interact and get along with others.
Ensuring educators are well skilled and trained in the benefits of the program is paramount to ensure that all of the benefits are experienced by both the children and their families.
Committed and trained educators also ensures the risks associated with this program are not experienced and the positive outcomes are achieved.
If you would like to know more about multi age programs, either for your child, or you would like to engage in a multi age setting within you Early Learning Program you are able to contact the team at Kyabram Community and Learning Centre to learn more.
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