Benefits of Mixed-Age Classes
Mixed-age classes benefit all children, because they have little opportunity these days for cross-age interaction. The average size of the Canadian family has steadily decreased, while geographic spread has made it less likely that children spend time with various-aged cousins. Increasingly, young children are limited to same-age play-dates and preschools. Yet according to early childhood education researcher Lilian Katz, "it's not natural for young children to spend large proportions of time in same-age litters." 1 Katz and others have written persuasively that the mixed-age setting has intellectual and social benefits for both older and younger children.
Older children learn empathy and an awareness of others--social skills that can last a lifetime. Those with poor impulse-control tend to do better when they have the opportunity to be role models for younger children. They also develop leadership qualities: even those children who may be shy in same-age groups often emerge as leaders in mixed-age settings. Younger children learn by imitating the older ones; and, when in mixed-age groups, they often show more complex behaviors earlier than usual.
Another benefit for all children in mixed-age classes is that adult caregivers are less likely to compare children or expect them to reflect some arbitrary "norm" for a given age. For all these reasons, the mixed-age setting has been a hallmark of the Music Together® program since it began in 1987. Children can develop at their own pace in a natural, family-style setting.
1 Katz, L.G. (1998) The benefits of the mix. Child Care Information Exchange, 11, 46-49.