Multi-age classrooms evoke images of “Little House on the Prairie” and one room schoolhouses, but advocates of multi-age classrooms cite many benefits to children that require some attention. The Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) lists many benefits of multi-age classrooms:
It forces teachers to focus on teaching each child individually, according to their strengths and needs, whereas same-grade classrooms expect all children to develop and perform at the same time, in regards to ability.
Children are given several years to develop and see themselves as growing, successful learners.
Children learn at their own rate and are not labeled according to their ability.
Teachers spend longer with the same children which allows them to develop a deeper understanding of the child’s strengths and needs and can help to better support their learning.
Children are encouraged to take ownership of their learning as they are given choices about when and how to do their work, especially when learning is project-based. This promotes life-long learning as scholar’s learn self-direction early in their schooling.
Children develop a sense of family with their classmates and become a family of learners who support and care for each other.
Older children have opportunities to be mentors, take on leadership roles, and model more sophisticated approaches to problem solving. This benefits younger children by aiding them in accomplishing tasks they could not do without help from someone older, but also benefits the older children by increasing their level of independence and competence.
Children are exposed to positive models for behavior and social skills and are more likely to cooperate than compete as they don’t see each other as competitors, rather as individuals to care for.
As we consider the benefits of multi-age classrooms, it’s interesting to note that traditional schools are one of the few places children are grouped together by a single age. Sports, Scouts, art programs, church classes and summer camp programs, group children into broader age groups. These multi-age groupings are beneficial as children develop at different times in different areas.
Normal development takes place within a range, not a specific age, so multi-age classrooms can remove pressure and feelings of inadequacy. This, in turn, creates an environment where children can learn, feel successful and ultimately, flourish.