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Mixing the Ages: Part 2


Tuesday 28 August 2018

In the last Scéalta post, Mixing the ages, Sarah O’Leary described how in her setting, Cheeky Cherubs in Cork, children of mixed ages play and learn together very effectively.

I have long been an advocate of children being in mixed age groupings. My initial training was as a Montessori teacher and the Montessori approach views three year age groupings as very beneficial. Maria Montessori believed that younger children learn from an older, more experienced peer and that the older peer learns caring, nurturing and patience from interacting with younger children.

In June I travelled to San Miniato in Italy, on an Early Childhood Ireland Erasmus Plus Leargas study trip. Susan Quirke Crowley spoke about her impression of the San Miniato approach in her blog "San Miniato: Quality Early Years Eucation - A Tuscan Approach".  I too was very taken with the approach to the care and education of children under three in the settings we visited. We were in 2 settings that have children under one right up to three years of age. In one, there were three rooms. In each room there were 15 children. Within that 15 children, at the start of the year, there are 5 children under one, 5 under two and 5 under three. It was fascinating and lovely to see these children playing, interacting, caring for and learning from each other.

The other setting had a more open space. A group of children, again all aged from under one to just over 3 wandered from area to area, played, sometimes alone, sometimes with others, sat, observed and learned in such a natural, organic way. Conflicts were few, I think because there wasn’t a big group of children all the same age and similar stage, trying to play together in the same way and not being able to self-regulate, especially at that age. Meal time was a delight: the children all came in from outside, washed hands and sat at the table. The table was set with real delph and glassware, children helped themselves to the food, some children needed more help than others and sometimes other children helped the younger ones. The meal was relaxed, conversation flowed and everyone clearly delighted in each other’s company. It was idyllic….and everyday practice.

Jim Greenman and Anne Stonehouse, in their book Prime Times (page52), outline the benefits of mixed age groupings. These include:

  • Greater continuity and fewer transitions from group to group
  • Older children have the opportunity to be the most competent and learn helping and sharing skills
  • Siblings can be together
  • Young children learn new skills from older children
  • Routines may be easier to manage and individualise because of the range of needs
  • Staff and children avoid the tension that can come from a group consisting of all toddlers

Many settings have always had mixed age groupings. In some ‘under three provision’ for example, there have not been enough children (or rooms) to have 3 rooms for children under three years. In these settings, there is a group aged from 8 to 18 months and from 18 months to three years. Sometimes, people are afraid that younger children won’t be able to cope or that older children will be held back. This is not the experience of most settings that have mixed age groups. 

We would love you to share your experiences!



Máire Corbett is an Early Childhood Specialist at Early Childhood Ireland. She trained in Montessori teaching and has completed an MA in Integrated Provision for Children and Families with the University of Leicester, at Pen Green.

Visiting member settings inspires me as I see the passion and energy educators put into providing great experiences for the children in their settings. I love seeing competent children at play! 

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