Scéalta – The Early Childhood Ireland Blog

< Back to Blog

Developing curriculum for children in mixed age groups

Kathleen Tuite


Wednesday 29 June 2016

Is your curriculum designed to follow the interests of children? Is it open-ended enough to meet the needs of mixed-age groupings? With the introduction of the second free pre-school year many practitioners are wondering about their curriculum.  How will they cope with children from maybe 2 and a half years old to 5 years plus, all in the same group? What will their curriculum look like over 2 years?

We know that for many years, long before the introduction of the free preschool year, pre-school settings have been places where children of varied age groups play together. We know that children learn from one another - the younger children learn how to engage in play and how to develop play stories and roles, the older children learn how to engage and manage the younger children and how to be good mentors and teachers.  Indeed, back in the 1930’s, the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky coined the phrase 'zone of proximal development' (ZPD) to refer to this very practice of learning from more capable others.  Children, he says, can achieve skills and thinking levels in interaction with others that they cannot manage alone.  This is what learning is about. We see it every day in families - children clean, cook, shop, paint, plant and build with help from others - all skills that they could not accomplish alone. Jerome Bruner used the term 'scaffolding' to describe the supports we give. The scaffolds are there until the building is capable of standing on its own. Children get the supports they need from one another and from adults, until they have mastered the skills themselves.

In early childhood settings, we recognise that when younger children play with older children they display higher levels of involvement in complex play, use more sophisticated expressive language (descriptions, vocabulary and conversations) and engage in more negotiation and problem solving.  But there are also benefits for the older child in these mixed-aged groupings. The older child demonstrates more responsibility and leadership, and discovers how to involve the younger child in their play and how to be kind, caring and persuasive.  These are very important leadership and management skills.

When developing a curriculum to support these mixed age groupings, we need to consider children’s interests, questions and experiences. We need to recognise that long before children enter pre-school settings they come with knowledge, dispositions, abilities, needs, interests and theories about how the world works. When we find out what children already know and what they are enquiring about, we can begin to plan how to extend and support their further learning and development. Harnessing children’s interests can be the stimulus for a relevant, meaningful and stimulating curriculum for all ages.  It is called an emergent curriculum.

Over the next few weeks, we want to think and talk more about what this kind of curriculum looks like in practice. We'd love you to join in the conversation, so we really welcome your comments and thoughts in the comment box below.


10 comments Comments

10 Responses

  1. Niall says:

    Looks great Kathleen!

  2. Ann Keating O'Neill says:

    Great Blog. Look forward to reading more.

  3. Kathleen Foley says:

    Great Blog Kathleen looking forward to following it. I am delighted that the second year will give the mixed age group again. In Montessori it is “vertical classification” mixed age groups are more like what any family may experience except where their may be sets of twins

  4. Kathleen Tuite says:

    Thank you for your comments Niall, Aine and Kathleen. Looking forward to hearing more and our audience growing!

  5. ljoyce says:

    I agree with your comment Kathleen that finding out the child’s current interest, knowledge, theories and needs are key to providing stimulating and challenging experiences. There are many educators who are very experienced in providing for mixed age group and I would love to hear practical examples of how they do this.

  6. Sharon O'Neill says:

    Very interesting Kathleen, I like your comment about the importance of open ended materials. I think these are the secret in facilitating a wide interest base, and children adapt them so readily to fulfil their own play needs. Example we have set of sticks in outdoor area,last week one group used them to build camp fire, another group were building a zoo and used them to fence animals and another group used them dare I say as weapons in power rangers!!!!

  7. Kathleen Tuite says:

    It’s great to hear from you Sharon, how the children in your setting are making their own use of ‘open ended materials’. What fun?

  8. Aileen Healy says:

    I think it is really important that service providers develop their programme of activities around the children’s interests . This is particularly important in full day care services where the pre-school child spends over five hours in the service , the programme needs to be engaging and fun for the child . Well done to ECI for the interesting Blogs

  9. Olivia Murray says:

    Kathleen, I am delighted to see that you are exploring this topic.. I recently participated in the LINC training and i suppose a key area of interest for me in this course was the differentiated curriculum. Differentiation is not just about accomodating the needs of children with additional needs but recognising that each child has indiviual learning needs and each child has a different way of learning, As many of the contributors above have mentioned we need to recognise the indiviual experiences of learning that children bring with them to pre-school, in particular respecting their funds of knowldge and building on these. I think the challenge for practitioners lies in the adult directed learning that takes place in early years settings particularly in how we manage small group times and large group times. We must ask ourselves how can we ensure that small group and large group times accomodate the individual learning needs and approaches within the mixed aged groups in our pre-schools? How can we make these learning opportunities exciting and interesting for children and are adult directed activities based on observations of childrens interests or are they something we feel we have to do.
    To ensure that we sustain children’s interest in learning and enable them to achieve their potentail we must be willing to open our minds to new learning too. This blog can stimulate our thinking so thank you for this interesting Blog !

  10. Kathleen Tuite says:

    Thank you Olivia for reading the blog and for your very insightful comments, it is wonderful to hear from like-minded people!

Leave a Reply

Please Log In to comment:

Diversity(1) Storytelling(7) Engagement(1) Sport(1) NAEYC(1) early years settings(1) National Awards 2018(2) responsive relationships(1) Exploring(1) Liz Kerrins(1) Annual Conference 2019(1) Norway(2) Games(1) continual professional development(1) ECEC Setting(2) christmas(9) Research Conference 2019(1) quarantine kids(1) Online Research Symposium(1) bloom app(1) science(3) Stress(2) Time(1) Exit interview(1) Exploratory Play(1) Self-Esteem(1) Socioemotional development(1) Opportunities(1) Engineering Ireland(1) Advocacy(1) Small World Play(1) Funding(1) under 3's(3) STEM(3) stories(3) Ariana Pucci(1) multi-generational community(1) supportive environments(2) Teamwork(1) Facebook(1) Story(2) reopening ireland(1) Leaders in Practice(1) ELC(1) dining(1) Mud kitchens(1) grandchild(1) code of ethics(1) College(1) Academic Skills(1) conversations(1) Learning Stories Award(3) Limerick(1) dublin(2) Queues(1) Hand Hygiene(2) Research and Professional Learning(1) Vietnam(1) MA(1) Thanks(1) Professionalisation(5) Children's Rights(3) ReCreate(2) developing motor skills(1) maternity health(1) communication(4) UNICEF report(1) CCTV(1) Recycle(1) Sustainable(1) collaboration(1) Early Childhood Education(1) Maynooth(1) ears(1) Reflective Practice(1) Growing up Outdoors(1) Communicating(1) annual conference(1) Maths Week Ireland(1) Creativity(6) Margy Whalley(1) Halloween(2) ERASMUS+(3) Leadership(1) Department of Children and Youth Affairs(2) Digital Devices(1) Culture(2) Early Childhood Care and Education(2) Frustrations(1) play(35) Mental Health(4) Leprechauns(1) Maternity Leave(1) Masterclass(2) Pre-School Services(1) Well-Being(10) Confidence(1) Plastic(1) Decision Making(1) Design(1) Obesity(1) racism(1) EECERA(1) Kilkenny(1) Budget 2019(2) Party(1) democratic citizens(1) Engineering(3) outdoors(4) Valentine's Day(3) research(6) Employee(1) Magda Gerber(1) Return to Work Training(1) Policy(2) COVID-19 landscape(1) Inspired Practice Award(6) Sessional service(1) Pobal sector profile(1) NCCA(3) apps for children(1) Pedagogical leaders(1) documentation(4) Seas Suas(1) Challenges(1) Budget 2018(1) Identity(5) Equality(1) Trade union(1) early years learning(1) pablo(1) Adoption(1) Eritrea(1) ECCE(7) learning bias(1) educating(1) Childcare Barometer 2018(1) Upcycling(1) animals(2) Self Help Skills(1) creche(1) Graduation(1) meals(3) Syria(1) Fee Play(1) Participation(2) Reading Time(1) Change(1) Dance(1) Independence(1) Early Years Educators(3) Mount Everest(1) National Bereaved Children's Awareness Week(1) code of professional responsibility(1) Names(1) Sociodramatic play(1) Ceremony(1) Awards Night(1) Scéalta Blog(104) Qualifications(1) Cork(1) Maths(6) Toby Bears Camping Trip(1) early life(1) Minister for Children and Youth Affairs(1) learners(1) Learning journals(1) community(5) Fabric(1) Engineers Week(2) University(1) Death(2) behavioural science(1) Jillian van Turnhout(1) Touch(1) Pobal(1) The Lullaby Book(1) Mixed age groups(3) quarantine(1) Building Resilience(1) gender stereotype(1) Positivity(1) Celebrate(1) babies(7) june29(1) Snakes(1) routine(2) Creative(1) purpose(1) Confident(1) Traditions(2) Snacks(1) Care routines(1) Frosty the Snowman(1) Behaviour(3) Degree(1) Inspirational(2) Covid19 crisis(1) Magic(1) Gratitude(1) Map(1) Impact(1) Inspections(1) Irish guidelines(1) Seanchaí(1) First 5(1) TRAP(1) development(8) Sweets(1) risk(2) Intention(1) EM Standing(1) transitions(10) Awards(2) Awards 2019(1) EECERA 2016(1) Technology(3) Mayo(1) Universal Design Guidelines(1) Learning Story(1) experience(1) Favouritism(1) early childhood(1) Your place(1) Communications(1) Interactions(3) SPICE Framework(1) Equality & Inclusion Guidelines Training(1) outdoor play(6) CPD(1) Covid-19 lockdown(1) children’s learning(1) Providing Leadership to the First 5(1) National Holiday(1) Traffic Lights(1) educarer(1) Meet the Members(1) listening(1) education(2) IGL(1) Children's Voice(1) Winter(1) an post(1) Sleep(1) DES Inspection(1) Running(1) awards 2020(1) PIP(1) Trade Unions(1) structure(1) Youtube Series(1) feisty(1) Horizon 2020(1) Blocks(1) Children and families(1) Policy and Implementation Panel(1) Home Corner(1) art of the relationship(1) National Childcare Scheme(1) Investment(2) Childcare(3) Twitter(1) Autism(4) School Age Childcare(1) democracy(1) Exploring and Thinking(1) gender bias(1) Inter-generational(2) Educator of the Year Award(3) Reopening Childcare(1) National Annual Awards 2020(1) Trick or treat(1) risky play(2) Interests(1) Pretend Play(1) E.coli(1) Body Language(1) Playschool(1) Early Childhood Ireland National Awards(2) AIM(2) Kindness(1) National Awards 2019(1) Loving Relationships(2) GDPR(1) Builders(1) Kids Own(1) mushrooms(1) Workplace Relations(3) Celebrations(4) mental health problems(1) Arlene Forster(1) science week(2) SAC(1) Early Years(1) Mark Twain(1) Infection Control(1) Early Childhood Ireland(10) Love(3) family time(1) emotions(2) Siolta blog(8) Training(2) Vertical grouping(1) Music(3) General Data Protection Regulation(1) social science(1) Snack Time(1) European Early Childhood Education Research Association(2) refugees(1) Online(1) preschool(4) Competent(1) Grief(1) Fantasy play(1) Scéalta Book Review(1) Reggio Emilia(2) Belonging(3) Human Resources(1) Infectious diseases(1) Deirdre Rogers(1) story time(2) Síolta(137) early childhood educator(2) Performing(1) Smiles(1) man up(1) Buddies(1) Special Needs Assistants(1) Elders(1) Health(2) Penguins(1) Super Shed Stories(2) Large Doll Play(1) Nonverbal(1) inspiring interactions(1) Mathematicians(1) DCYA(6) Treasure Chest(1) First 5 transitions for children award(1) Art(6) Early Learning and Care(1) Jenga(1) Painting(1) Síolta Quality Assurance programme(1) Little Buddies(1) Loss(1) Santa(2) Craft(1) child-centric(1) budget(1) RTE Investigates(1) Children's Research Network(1) Laugh(1) Síolta QAP(1) Covid response(2) Workplace well-being(1) World Health Organisation(1) Shoes(1) Vivian Gussin Paley(1) Inspired Practice Awards(1) The Play and Learning in the Early Years(1) aistear blog(3) Maria Montessori(1) Access and Inclusion Model(2) Italy(1) Document Learning(1) Recycling(2) Biting(1) Research Seminar(1) Capable(1) Montessori(3) Dr. Emer Ring(1) worries(1) linc(1) Reggio Children Network(1) Visual Impairment(1) Primary School(3) parents(6) St. Patrick's Day(1) The Jelly King(1) Aistear(130) books(4) Learning Story Awards(2) interacting(2) Valerie Gaynor(1) National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education(1) journey(1) Together Old and Young Programme(1) social media policy(1) Christmas Creativity(2) trust(4) Community involvement(1) Meal time(1) coronavirus(1) primary education(1) Mindfulness(3) LINC Award for Leadership in Inclusion(2) Leadership for INClusion in the Early Years(1) dining experiences(1) European Project(1) Academics(1) friendships(1) Interaction(1) TOY Programme(1) Early Years Education(1) Nutrition(1) Mo Scéal(1) peer group(1) Rituals(1) Certificate(1) Brain(1) Support(1) Pen green(1) Role play(1) Staff Motivation(1) Wendy Lee(3) outdoor environment(1) Growing up in Ireland(3) AsIAm(2) Yoga(1) Potential(1) Identity and Belonging(4) Universal Design(2) Learning Stories(9) Children(4) Whole Group(1) Kerry(1) First 5 strategy(1) Maynooth University(2) Environment(2) ECEC(3) Trauma-Sensitive(1) Event Guide(1) Prexit(1) Irish Childhood Bereavement Network(1) early years research(2) Visitors(1) Proceedings Journal(1) Cork Institute of Technology(1) INTO(1) Appreciation(1) Wonder(1) Counting(1) Aistear Siolta in Action(1) Educators(2) Patterns(1) Through the looking glass(1) Giraffe(2) Emergent Curriculum(1) keezy(1) baby room(1) online training(1) Wesco(1) Sculptures(1) play pod(1) Weather(1) Drawing(2) Consent(1) New Appointments(1) Tuscan Approach(2) Malaguzzi(1) National Early Childhood Research Conference(1) Covid pandemic(2) UNCRC(2) Educator - Leader in Practice Award(1) Early Learning and Care Centres(1) Imagination(3) Leargas(1) learning(19) Exclusion(1) Time Out(1) United Nations(1) Family(1) Spiders(1) Learning Journal(2) Light table(1) childcare services(1) life long learning(1) Titles(1) Performance Management(1) UN(1) Irish Early Years Research & Practice Seminar 2018(1) Inclusion(3) Breathing(2) Sequins(1) Anxiety(2) Montessori & Early Childhood Professionals Ireland(1) Digital(1) Self-regulation(1) ECIAwards20(1) Photographs(1) Kindness Challenge(1) Summer(1) play stories(2) planning(1) imotion(1) healthy eating policies(1) memories(1) Child Care(1) Looking Back(1) Book Review(1) pets(1) Lego(2) Budget 2020(1) Buddy Bench(1) movement behaviours(1) Exercise(1) National Council for Curriculum and Assessment(1) Care-giving routines(1) youdoodle(1) Oireachtas(1) Laughter(1) playleader(1) Supernanny(1) lockdown(1) Awards 2018(3) play therapy(1) listen(1) Wrapping paper(1) Effect of Lockdown(1) Annual Conference 2017(2) outdoor space(3) Thank you(1) staying connected(1) Treasure(1) value(1) Pedagogy(2) research submissions(1) GoToMeeting app(1) Afghanistan(1) annual awards(1) phone apps(1) children development(1) Minister Katherine Zappone(1) Rising to the Challenge(2) relationships(18) Glitter(2) HR(1) Mealtimes(1) Study Trip(1) UN Sustainable Development Goals(1) Routines(2) Dr Mary O'Kane(1) CIT(1) Adverse Childhood Experiences(1) Childhood(1) ICBN(1) Trigonometry(1) Shapes(2) Inter-generational learning(2) eating(1) San Miniato(4) Cognitive development(1) Bereavement(2) Workforce(1) Motor neuron disease(1) Arts(1) Relaxation(1) Early Childhood Ireland’s National Early Childhood Research Conference 2019(1) Department of Education and Skills(1) Aistear Siolta Practice Guide(1) Learning through Storytelling(1) Japan(1) Sustainability(3) Quality(4) Affordability(1) Wilenski(1) COVID-19 crisis(1) Family wall(1) curiosity(3) child-centred approach(1) Flowers(1) National Research Conference 2019(1) respect(5) Child mental health(1) bonds(1) Irish(1) conference(1) Arithmetic(1) Playdough(1) RIE philosphy(1) Easter(1) Iraq(1) show and tell(1) role playing(1) toddlers(3) play pods(2) National Pyjama Day(1) Settling in(4) International Narratives(1) Magnavacchi(1) reopening(1) Reggio(1) emotional well-being(1) food(1) keep in touch(1) Orla Kenny(1) dogs(1) Albert Einstein(1) social media(2) environments(1) Feeding(1) Line-ups(1) Empathy(1) Graduate(1) preschool settings(1) Administrative Burden(1) Anthony Semann(1) Rich Documentation(1) Xbox(1) overhear(1) Maths Week(1) learning hub(1) MECPI(1) education system(1) Aldo Fortunati(4) Educator Award - Leader in Practice(1) Mantra(1) blog(53) Partnership with Families Innovation Award(2) scéalta(56) Window(1) Inspiring Practice(1) Gardening(1) curriculum(5) COVID-19(14) Plants(1) Thinking(1) Iceland(1) Book Club(2) COVID-19 Reopening(2) emotional environment(2) risk assessment(1) Nuturing interactions(1) Our Little Seed(1) Decisions(1) reading(5) Looking Forward(1) iOS(1) UD(1) Scents(1) Social Skills(1)


Site maintained and developed by Cloud Nine