3 Tips for Working with a Mixed-Age Group
Infants. Toddlers. Twos. Threes. Fours. School-age. If you work with a mixed-age group, you may have all of these ages in your program. Working with so many ages poses many challenges. In addition to the children being different chronological ages, they are also all functioning on different developmental levels as well. We all know that all two-year-olds are NOT and same and cannot do the same things. Plus, planning experiences for a mixed-age group is challenging … to say the least! After all, there is only one you and many of them. Here are 3 tips to make this process easier and some examples to help you get started.
Tip #1: Get Moving during Group Time– Make group time as hands-on and active as possible. Games are not only a lot of fun but they teach children cooperation, encourage them to practice self-regulation and often require listening skills. For instance, if you are teaching the children about taking care of their bodies, play, “Simon Says” and incorporate different body parts. Let your more advanced children take turns being “Simon” to give them the opportunity to engage in a leadership role. Songs, rhymes and stories (as long as they are not too long) are also great ways to get children involved and keep their attention during group time. Dramatic play is also a wonderful way to keep group time engaging. Remember…young children have very short attention spans. The more you keep them active and busy, the longer they will be likely to stay engaged. At the same time, be sure to keep your expectations in line with what is developmentally appropriate. Most young children will only be able to pay attention for just a few minutes!
Tip #2: Think “Safety” & “Creativity” during Small Group Experiences– One of the biggest things to keep in mind during small group activities is safety. Make sure that the materials you put out for the children to use are safe for ALL of the ages that will be using them. This means that they cannot be a choking hazard for those under the age of 3. Also, level these experiences so that ALL ages can participate in the same experience but in different ways. The levels you provide should be based on the children’s developmental levels and not their chronological ages. Here’s an example:
Let’s say the children are catching craft foam fish in the water table. All of the children will be developing fine motor control and eye-hand coordination as they participate BUT you can level this experience to meet the needs of different developmental levels. For instance, for those children with limited fine motor control (often Toddlers/Twos), just let them catch the fish with their hands. But for those children with more refined fine motor control, provide kitchen tongs that they can use to “catch” the fish. If you have children in between these two groups, you could provide kitchen strainers they could use to catch the fish. This way, you have ONE activity but everyone can participate on a level that is right for them!
Tip #3: Make a Mixed-Age Group Work for YOU! One of the beauties of working with a mixed-age group is how the children learn from one another and support one another. For instance, more advanced children can serve as role-models and “helpers” for younger ones. This not only gives you and extra set of hands, it also helps more advanced children assume a leadership role. Conversely, older children learn patience and empathy when working with younger ones. How wonderful is that?
These are just a few ideas on how you can address the unique needs of a mixed-age group. The biggest key is to think about the children in your group. What can each child already do? What is each child learning to do? How could you make the experience easier or more challenging? While it takes a little bit of thought to do this, it is certainly a lot easier than planning a different activity for each child!
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