Children learn in different ways and have different needs.
According to Tracey Bortz, director of early childhood education at Gross Schechter Day School in Pepper Pike, and Courtney Martin, director of the lower school at Hawken School in Lyndhurst, parents should explore their options.
At Hawken School, though there are opportunities for students to learn with same-age counterparts, students are encouraged to interact and learn with different age groups.
“Both are possible, which is why we have both,” Martin said. “It is possible and likely for children to learn with children of their age-group. But what we think about when we think of the real world and development, it’s that ability to learn from children who are younger, older and the same age as them. It allows them to learn from each other. There are times where both work and we like having the option of both.”
In multi-age situations, Martin said children have the opportunity to lead and to follow.
“That allows us to broaden development,” she explained. “Children reach those milestones at different times, so there is room for growth for everyone. But one of the things we don’t consider is a classroom with children of all the same grade, there are naturally children with different ages. So, in those situations, teachers have the opportunity to differentiate.”
Martin added situations with mixed ages allows for unique intergroup lessons.
“There is that piece of being either a role model or having another child model for you,” she said. “Young children are especially challenged with communication, so having that modeled for them is critical. And with other children being those role models, it helps them notice the examples they make for younger children.”
The early childhood curriculum at Gross Schechter focuses on the socialization process, Bortz said. So, while having classmates of different ages can be helpful, some children thrive when classmates are the same age.
“By grouping the children with their same-aged peers, we can focus that learning at the appropriate levels, scaffolding their learning as they go from parallel play at 18 months to collaborative learning in pre-K and beyond.”
Bortz pointed out a student’s abilities can greatly differ within
12 months. Each child has strengths and weaknesses. By grouping children by age, teachers can provide personalized help and support.
“We have two teachers in every room and sometimes more than that which gives us the flexibility to have those one-on-one interactions,” Bortz said. “The children tend to have similar life experiences and share many of the same interests which assist in capturing their attention and making things exciting.”
And though preschool children are a few years old, Bortz noted it’s not a lot of time to be alive and learning. By grouping students in age groups, teachers can “laser focus” on
No matter the type of learning or learning environment, parents should help to cultivate those needs at home.
“Creating opportunities for both structured and unstructured activities with school friends is a great way to reinforce the learning children are doing with their teachers in school,” Bortz said. “Whether it be a playdate on the playground or regular participation in a museum class, parents can bolster the school experience in many ways.”
Martin said, “Parents can do that with siblings. That relationship is helpful, and fostering that with outside activities. When you think about it, that’s the natural way that children interact in the world.”