Caring for Children in Mixed Age Groups

Michelle Long 

Family and group childcare providers often care for children in mixed age group settings that can include infants, toddlers, preschool and school-age children, especially during the summer when school is not in session. During certain situations, childcare centers may also find that they are caring for smaller groups of mixed-age children in a classroom. Caring for multi-age children in a family, group or center setting can be challenging as children have individual needs and interests, but it can also be rewarding and beneficial to both adults and children. Mixed age grouping can provide a sense of family and provide an opportunity for children to learn from each other.  Read more

In mixed age groups, activities and routines need to be flexible to accommodate everyone’s needs and interests. Older children may need quiet activities to engage in when the younger children are sleeping. Younger children may eat lunch at an earlier time, or the older children may eat when the younger children are napping.  

Providing plenty of time for free play with open-ended materials allows children to follow their interests and work at their own pace. Open ended materials encourage cooperation and teamwork. When working together to make a store in the dramatic play area, children can brainstorm about what the store will sell and how much products will cost, older children can make signs, play money and price tags and younger children can organize and stock the shelves. Children can work together on a large mural that allows for each child to add their individualized touch to the art or create an obstacle course that allows all to participate and be successful. 

Older children can teach younger children how to play simple board or card games. A preschool child can sit with a few toddlers and “read” a board book to them. Social skills are practiced and learned as children interact. Older children take on leadership roles, practice patience and nurturing behaviors and young children learn from watching and listening to their older playmates. Mixed age interactions encourage communication skills as children talk and listen to each other during play and routines. Teacher support and participation during these interactions enhances and increases opportunities for learning. 

In all childcare settings, careful supervision is important to keep everyone safe. Older children should never be responsible for supervision of younger children and children should not be forced to interact with each other. When children are provided with an engaging environment and supportive teachers, children benefit from interacting with children of different ages and abilities during activities and routines that allow all to contribute at their own level. 








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