ChildLinks Issue 1: Mixed Age Groups in Early Learning and Care

Barnardos. (2022). ChildLinks Issue 1: Mixed Age Groups in Early Learning and Care.
Throughout our lives we engage, interact and socialise with people of all ages, learning from and supporting those both older and younger than ourselves, and benefitting from their different experiences, understanding, knowledge level, abilities and skills. In most Western countries, including Ireland, however, many children spend much of their time outside the home with other children the same age. It is the norm in the primary and secondary school system, for example, for children to be segregated into classes based solely on age. In centre-based Early Learning and Care (ELC) settings this is also often the case, with children grouped into babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers, to be cared for and educated separately in different rooms. By not being given the opportunity to play with and socialise with others of different ages, children are being denied the positive relationships, enhanced learning experiences, and social and emotional development that would come from such engagement. This issue of ChildLinks considers the benefits of mixed age groupings, particularly in Early Learning and Care, where children engage with children at least 2 or 3 years older and younger, supporting, nurturing and learning from one another. In the first article in this issue, Sandra J. Stone, Founder of the National Multiage Institute and Professor Emeritus at the Northern Arizona University in the US, considers the myriad benefits of mixed age groupings in maximising every child’s overall well-being while preparing them now and for a future, mixed-age, diverse society. Following this, Barbara Gavagan, Early Years Inspector in the Department of Education, discusses effective pedagogy with mixed age groups in Early Learning and Care settings, drawing on both the content of the Early Years Education Inspection Quality Framework and the findings from inspections in settings across Ireland. Tina Dunstan then gives an overview of her experiences as owner of Cherryblossoms Childcare Ltd, a service that espouses mixed age groupings, and highlights the benefits this approach has had for the children in her care. An article from Barnardos then looks specifically at the positive impacts of mixed age groups on children social and emotional development. Finally, Dr Miriam O’Regan, Regional Childminding Development Officer with Dublin City Childcare Committee, explores mixed age groupings in childminding settings in Ireland.