It can be especially difficult to plan activities and curriculum that will suit the developmental levels of all the children in your care, while still holding the attention of both infants and older children. There are also several other considerations when caring for mixed age groups, such as safety, meal planning, nap times and play times. How can educators be most effective in these types of classroom settings?
While the challenges that come with caring for mixed age groups may seem hard to overcome, it is important to focus on the unique advantages that these types of classrooms offer. For example:
A mixed age classroom allows children to interact and learn how to get along with peers of varying ages. This is a great opportunity for developing social skills and building confidence.
Siblings are able to remain in the same classroom together while still interacting with a diverse range of children.
Mixed-age classes allow educators to focus on the individual needs and skill levels of each child, rather than the overall skill levels of a same-age classroom as a whole.
Older children in mixed age groups will learn compassion, patience and problem-solving skills as they interact and assist younger children.
Younger children will find themselves challenged by the older students, even participating in more complex activities with their older peers.
If you find yourself in charge of a classroom with a wide age range, keep the following in mind to deliver a program that is suited to all children in your care:
Choose toys and materials that are open-ended. When you choose items that can be used in varying ways (i.e. blocks, craft supplies, foam shapes, balls), children of different abilities can use these items in a developmentally-appropriate way.
Be aware of safety at all times. Play areas must be designed with the safety of the youngest children in mind, ensuring toys and equipment do not pose hazards.
Enlist older children as “helpers” to keep your classroom organized. Giving older students a particular task to perform on a regular basis can help teach responsibility.
Break children into smaller, similar-aged groups often. Plan different small group activities for the older and younger groups frequently to avoid older children becoming bored.
Be flexible! Ensuring you meet the needs of a mixed aged class means you need to be able to deviate from the plan if necessary. If your younger children need more quiet time, or your older children need more stimulation on a certain day, be willing to make adjustments.