Wednesday, January 30, 2013

More on Mixed Aged Classrooms: How Do You Manage?

I run a mixed aged classroom. In fact, yesterday, there was a full decade - 10 years- in age difference between our youngest learner and our oldest learner. I am often faced with questions from a variety of sources trying to understand exactly - How Do You Manage a Mixed Aged Classroom?

First, I have to admit. EVERY classroom comes with its own challenges. Every child, regardless of age, brings their own strengths and experiences to the classroom. Every child has needs and different requirements. Working with mixed ages can be challenging, but in the end, age is just a number.

I'm going to take a few minutes to answer some of the more common questions I am asked about integrating such a wide range of ages in our classroom.

What do you do with the infants?

The majority of questions I receive in regard to mixed ages has to do with caring for infants at the same time as older children. Yes, infants do have some additional needs that you don't have with older children. However, having infants together with older children provides a wonderful reciprocal learning opportunity.  Older children are constantly modeling and scaffolding for the younger ones. Younger infants and toddlers provide ample opportunities for modeling empathy and treating others with respect. 

Logistically, What does this look like in our classroom?

We run an emergent play-based classroom. This means that we are very child centered. The children take the lead, and we support them through resources, conversation, and reflection. Our materials are set out at child level with any material that would be a choking hazard or require additional close supervision to be placed on higher shelves. We have real- honest and open conversations about our concerns with materials.

"Ms. Amy, Can we play with the dollhouse stuff?" 

"I'm a little bit worried about all of the small pieces with the babies here today....
How could we make that work?"

By sharing my concerns with the older children and asking them to be the problem solvers, I am not imposing rules..... I am inviting them to be active participants and to solve problems to come up with agreeable solutions. Sometimes the ideas the children come up with are brilliant......

Sometimes, it means that I engage the younger children in a different activity. Sometimes it means that the small pieces are only played with at a table or on a higher level than the younger children. Sometimes it means that I play too, sitting with the infants to make sure that they don't put any pieces in their mouths. Sometimes it means waiting until the infant(s) take a nap. Whatever the solution, the children own it.

I also try to promote as much independence as early as possible. This means that mobile infants are on the floor and mobile. I don't tend to use things like exersaucers, swings, or bouncers inside. We do have a few chairs for sitting in, and I use the high chair seats on the floor. (The ones that you would normal strap onto a regular chair).  By having the chairs at the child's level, they can crawl up to them. 

When older children are building with blocks and don't want the younger children to knock their creations down, I ask them to use their words. "Tell them you don't want them to touch your tower." It usually doesn't work very well as very young infants are quite egocentric and if they want to do something, they continually try to do it. So, I usually position myself on the floor near the structure and keep little ones from knocking the tower down, reminding them, "I think I heard M.. say that she doesn't want you to touch her tower. We need to find something else to do. I can build a tower for you to knock down or you can find something else to play with" I proceed to engage the younger children in something similar and keep them from the older children's creations.  Most of the time this works out well, and sooner rather than later they start to understand to respect the space and explorations of others. 

Then, sometimes, it all works out and we all explore together...
playing, learning, and growing with the help of each other. 

Amy Ahola is the owner/operator of Child Central Station, group home daycare and educational toy store in Marquette, Michigan.  She has been running her own business since 2005. Prior to that time, Amy worked in a childcare center and public school. In addition to her childcare business, Amy also provides educational training sessions. Amy earned a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from Northern Michigan University and a M.S. in Training, Development, and Performance Improvement.  For more information about any of her programs, please visit Child Central Station or Find her on Facebook

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