Mixed age classes in the Early Years and Year 1. To mix or not to mix? Sometimes we don't have the option!
This article doesn't wave a magic wand, it doesn't have any straight answers on how make it work and there is no downloadable handbook. What it does contain are some thoughts for you to reflect upon and chew over with other colleagues.
- Are mixed age classes better or not for learning?
- Will the children attain the same in a mixed age class as they would in a same age class?
- Will their social and emotional development be improved being with children of differing ages?
- Parents of the younger children in a mixed age class might worry that their child won't be able to keep up whilst the parents of the older children have concerns that their deeper, possibly more advanced needs won't be met.
- What do parents actually want out of a school – is it the best academic achievement as they go through the school, or perhaps a focus on social and emotional development or even just a strong friendship group?
Mixed age classes very often but not always come with a smaller than average sized school and the structure of the school means that children are taught in a mixed age class to allow the school to deliver the best educational outcomes in the most efficient way. We have many different combinations of mixed age classes – Nursery and Reception, Reception and Year 1, Reception and part of Year 1, and some schools even add some Year 2 children into the mix, to name but a few. Therefore we have to be mindful that these children will spend one year being the younger group in the class and the next being the older ones. As the children will then be with the same teacher for a couple of years, it allows for a deeper understanding of the children's strengths and individual needs to be developed and puts them in a better position to support their learning.
In small rural schools mixed aged classes are a necessity because of the smaller cohorts, whereas some larger schools have temporary mixed age classes because of the imbalance of children in cohorts and of course, some schools actually choose to have mixed age classes further up the school.
Thinking of teachers, some believe that there are many benefits of being part of a teaching team in a mixed age class school despite some of the challenges it might present. What teacher isn't up to a challenge of some sort?
Teachers recognise that mixed age teaching can be a challenge where they must constantly adapt their approach to teaching and learning. They need a high level of flexibility and organisation to ensure that the provision caters to both age groups and all of the abilities and interests within the class.
As we all know, especially in Early Years, a child's age tells us nothing concrete about their development, they are all unique, and thank goodness for that!!
We should remember that learning happens individually, in small groups, and as a whole class, if the children are all engaged, motivated and focussed they will learn whether they are in a mixed age class or a single age class.
Mixed age classes generate a family of learners who support and care for each other. Older children have the opportunity to help others and be a leader supporting their younger friends to play and learn and become independent learners. At the same time the older child can increase in independence and competence.
The views of some people about mixed age classes.
'I wonder' (I just had to get those words in somewhere as they are two of the most well used words in every Early Years environment) what your reaction is to these views?
- In mixed age classes children are more likely to cooperate than compete. Does cooperation and caring make these children see others as individuals rather than as competitors?
- Children in mixed age classes are not given an ability label as much as those in single age classes therefore giving them the freedom to feel pride in their abilities as an individual and the capacity to improve further.
- The pace of learning in a mixed age class is individualised in order to meet the needs of the children. Instructions are tailored to each child or to a small group, children who are ready for it can be challenged and children who need additional support and extra time can be given time to learn at their own pace no matter what their age.
- Teachers of children in a mixed age class concentrate on what children can do rather than what they can't do!
To facilitate learning in a mixed age class we need to have regard for the following
- An established and agreed ethos for learning
- Effective methods of planning and provision to suit the needs of a wider range of ages and of abilities and interests than in a single age class.
- Differentiated play based opportunities which offer challenge across at least two age ranges.
- Adults who are very clear on a wide range of age related expectations, high level expectations as well.
- Direct whole class teaching that is kept to a minimum with teaching targeted at individual ability groups.
- Assessment – as always this must be rigorous and needs to respond to the learning needs of ALL of the class
- The learning environment, both inside and outside should be adapted to the children as they mature and progress across the year and meet the expectations of the Year group they are in.
- How we make effective use of adult time across the year to support all learners and this requires a really skilled set of adults that can adapt their supportive role and change along with the children as they make progress
- ….and did I mention, a desire to make learning fun for each unique child and set them up as independent lifelong learners in a very mixed modern day world!
Article by Gill Deakin, Early Years Teaching & Learning Adviser
For more information on this topic or support, please contact Babcock Prime Early Years: