Mixed-Age Grouping in Early Education

Risks and Concerns

Every method of grouping children has risks. One concern with mixed-age grouping is ensuring that younger children are not overwhelmed by older or more competent ones. Teachers have an important role to play in maximizing the potential benefits of the age mixture by encouraging children to turn to each other for explanations, directions, and comfort. Teachers can also encourage older children to read stories to younger ones, and to listen to younger students read.

Teachers can also encourage older children to take responsibility for an individual younger child or for younger children in general. Teachers can encourage older children not to gloat over their superior skills, but to take satisfaction in their competence in reading to younger children, in writing things down for them, in explaining things, in showing them how to use the computer, in helping them find something, in helping them get dressed to go outdoors, and so forth.

Teachers can show older children how to protect themselves from being pestered by younger children, for example, by saying to the younger children, “I can’t help you right this minute, but I will as soon as I finish what I am doing.” Teachers can also help younger children learn to accept their own limitations and their place in the total scheme of things, as well as encourage older children to think of roles and suitable levels that younger ones could take in their work or in their activities. The basic expectation is that the children will be respectful and caring of one another (Lipsitz, 1995).

When teachers discourage older children from calling younger ones “cry babies” or “little dummies,” they help resist the temptation of age stereotyping. Every once in a while one can observe a teacher saying to a misbehaving first grader something like “that behavior belongs in kindergarten.” The teacher still will expect the first grader to be kind and helpful to the kindergartners during recess, though he or she has just heard kindergartners spoken of in a condescending way! A mixed-age group can provide a context in which to teach children not only to appreciate a level of understanding or behavior they themselves recently had, but also to appreciate their own progress and to develop a sense of the continuity of development.

For More Information

Anderson, Robert H., and Barbara Nelson Pavan. (1993). Nongradedness: Helping It to Happen. Lancaster, PA: Technomic Publishing Company, Inc. ED 355 005.

Chase, Penelle, and Jane Doan, Eds. (1994). Full Circle: A New Look at Multi-Age Education. Portsmouth, NH: Heineman Publishers, 1994. ED 371 864.

Katz, Lilian G., Demetra Evangelou, and Jeanette A. Hartman. (1990). The Case for Mixed-Age Grouping in Early Education. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children. ED 326 302.

Lipsitz, Joan. (1995). Prologue: Why We Should Care about Caring. Phi Delta Kappan 76(9, May): 665-667.

Miller, Bruce A. (1995). Children at the Center: Implementing the Multiage Classroom. Eugene, OR: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management. EA 025 954.

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This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under OERI contract no. DERR93002007. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education. ERIC digest are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated.

Author:  Lillian Katz