Who’s the Teacher Here, Anyway?

26 Jan

Educational research shows that grouping children of mixed ages together in a learning environment positively benefits both the younger and older children. Think about tying shoes: An older child will show a younger sibling (or friend) how to tie laces, and this both teaches the younger child a valuable life skill and also reinforces that skill in the older child. Same goes for reading, or writing, or setting the table.

Our public schools are not structured this way, so I haven’t gotten to see the effects of mixed-age grouping in my children’s formal education, but I absolutely see it in my Music Together classes! Just this week, a three-year-old child took the role of my helper, carrying an instrument box from the rug to the shelf, and after the next song a two-year-old started to do the same thing. It spread like wildfire through the class, and children of all ages were hauling baskets and boxes of instruments hither and yon, each hoping to get a turn as the helper. The older children modeled a behavior that the younger children parroted, teaching the younger ones how to help (it’s not always intuitive, is it?) and reinforcing for the older children how important that help is to me and to the entire class.

The truth is that I see this mixed-age effect play out in many ways in class, not just at clean-up time: a younger child copies the way an older child shakes eggs; a big kid hands instruments to a younger one to get them started; a little kid tries to jump like the three-year-old she’s watching. Sometimes I wonder, “Who’s the teacher here, anyway?” Hey, I’m thrilled to share, because (this being a mixed-age class, and me being — well — older) they’re teaching me, too.

Want more? Here’s a good article that sums up the benefits of mixed-age classes.

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