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.
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.
'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?
Article by Gill Deakin, Early Years Teaching & Learning Adviser
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