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Caring for children of mixed-ages is what family child care is all about.  There are many benefits to mixed-age groups verses those in same-age child care group settings.  Some benefits of mixed-age groups may include the advantage of keeping siblings together and offering a comfortable home-like setting that is secure to younger children to opportunities to develop and practice social skills.

We have all seen it a number of times when a child shows a younger child a degree of kindness. Mixed-age groups offers children a chance to nurture younger children.  We can’t expect children to learn to be nurturing if they are not given a chance to practice.  Mixed-age child care setting give children a chance to adapt their language skills to relate with younger children, often learning patience, compassion and other problem solving skills. 

Children in mixed-age groups are capable of accepting differences in age and development.  It simply is not realistic to expect all children to like the same things at the same times or be at the same stage of development as other children their age.  There is a wider rage of behaviors and performances that is likely to be accepted and tolerated by the adults as well as the children.

Many adults fear mixed-age groups because they believe that older children will bully the younger children and the younger child will not be able to defend themselves.    Studies have shown quite a different result.  Children in mixed-age groups tend to take on more positive leadership roles than those in same-age groups.  It is when children are asked to do the same tasks, the children resort to bullying. 

Studies have also found that children in mixed-age groups did more sharing and help-giving than children in same-age groups.  Older children did not take advantage of younger children.  They were more generous with younger children than those of the same age.  Thus the older  children were less competitive and more cooperative and  exhibited more helpful behaviors. 

When older children are asked to remind younger children of the rules, the older children’s behavior also improved.  This could lead to older children being bossy.  This doesn’t occur when older children are given plenty of important choices to learn responsibility to feel powerful without being in control of the younger children.  Older children learn the reasons for the rules and by older children developing rules they can help teach the rules.

Children have a greater degree of freedom allowing them to develop at their own rate.  Younger children also get a chance to participate in play and other learning opportunities that they would have been unable to initiate for themselves without the direction of an older child. 

Older and younger children learn from each other in many ways.  Older children learn from  taking the role as a leader or teacher.  Younger children learn both what the older child is teaching and how to teach others.  Especially valuable are times when children disagree about their ideas due to the different stages of thinking.  This type of conflict forces children to think through their thoughts and ideas often resulting in a chance for a child’s own thinking to grow.

As you can see, mixed-age grouping benefits both the older and younger child as well as the adults who accept and tolerate the differences of children thru age and development.  When children are cared for in the mixed age group setting, providers can face special challenges.  These challenges can be very similar to raising kids in the same family.  Caregivers who plan developmentally appropriate activities while keeping the room arrangement and use of space as well as the safety of children in mind can over come these challenges.  Having mixed-age groups in a child care setting may be a juggling act...but a very rewarding one!

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