Because of the snow day today, the children’s ages spanned a decade. I get a lot of questions from people just starting off in the home daycare business or considering working with young children. How does it work, how do you manage with mixed ages?
I don’t think that a mixed aged classroom has any more challenges than that of a large classroom of children the same age. After all, children develop at different stages and each one has unique abilities and strengths. Each child comes with their own needs and experiences. I think that some of the challenges may be different when working with mixed ages, the benefits of working with such a wide range of age and development far out weigh the struggles. (I posted some more tips and things that have worked for me when dealing with wide ranges of ages and development over at PreKandKSharing).
Today as a prime example of how an emergent play based classroom works for all ages. Public schools were closed, and some of our older siblings came over to play. I have to admit, that I am always a little bit concerned after children have entered the public school system – I worry about the state of our educational system, and the lack of developmentally appropriate practices, the push down of curricula, and the philosophy causing children to expect to be directed by the teacher.
Some school classrooms don’t have any toys in them. Some young children aren’t allowed to use their fingers to count on or to help them do their math. Some children are not allowed to go outside for recess or have meaningful conversations with their friends at lunch time. Sometimes they aren’t given the time to follow through with their explorations—they are rushed from one subject to the next….. but NOT HERE.
In our classroom, almost anything goes. The children are given the opportunity to take their explorations to the limits. We have a rough schedule- as routine is important for children, BUT we investigate, we play, we explore….. until we have exhausted our desire to do so. Then, we are inspired or intrigued by something else and we move on. SOMETIMES WE DON’T EVEN CLEAN UP before going to lunch, snack, or outside….. Do you know why? Because children need time to revisit their play. They need to go back and find things just the way they left them, choosing to make changes, or maybe even clean up because they decided they were ready to move on… NOT because they were told, but because THEY were ready.
When given the time, children’s explorations evolve. I love to watch the younger children as they observe the older children play.
It does not take long before they too are trying to do some of the same things.
Sometimes the child who was initially doing the modeling then becomes the child who observes another, The child above noticed after a school aged child was playing with the ramps that not only could you send the cars down the ramp, but you could push them up too!…… and EVEN our youngest children- the infants start to participate in the mix…..
Sometimes the children play together in a large group, but I tend to find that explorations tend to ebb and flow from large group interactions to smaller group interactions- all on their own.
As the teacher, I facilitate the environment and provide supports for learning. I watch, listen, and observe. I assist children in finding their words to solve their own problems, help them find the resources they need. But more often than not…. during the deep levels of their investigation- I really just need to be an invisible support and just stay out of their way. As the children in our care grow older and provide more supports for each other and the younger children, I know that I have done my job well when it appears that I am no longer needed.
It is quite rewarding to watch and listen as they discuss their plans, ask for what they need from each other, create hypotheses – test them, and adjust their investigations accordingly. Often times, I don’t even have the opportunity to ask “can you tell me about this?” because of of the other children will have already chimed in,
Sometimes I worry that when the school aged children come back, that they’ll be “bored” or spend time looking to me for direction. Sometimes I worry that maybe they forgot how to play. I’ve seen that happen far too many times with children.….. I also know that once they leave our doors, we’ve done the best we can to make sure that they remember- we’ve given them memorable experiences and connected with them one human being to another. We’ve given them time, and supported them. There is no greater reward than to see that when they walk back through our doors….