A couple Fridays back our Pre-3 class coincided with a public school teacher in-service day so we made it into a special older siblings day since we knew they would be out of school and available for our use.
It was probably a little early in the year to be introducing this kind of "alien element" to our community of 2-year-olds just as it’s starting to gel, but we only have a few times a year to take advantage of their bigger, more sophisticated selves, so we have to take it where we can get it.
Our 3-5 class is a regular multi-age operation and daily I see the benefits of having a few of these “aspirational figures” around to role model behaviors for the younger kids. This is especially important for children who don’t have older siblings. I don’t think it’s an accident, for instance, that nearly all of our 2-year-olds have been pitching in with clean-up this past week, after having witnessed, and in many cases worked side-by-side with, their older friends.
There is a lot of research out there on the benefits of multi-aged learning environments, which I would gladly point you to, but for me the biggest reason for inviting the big kids into the classroom is the same reason I urge everyone to invite grandparents to visit as often as they’d like (and we’ve had some who wind up coming so often I put them to work): it’s the only way to import a true sense of family into the classroom. Families are not just multi-aged, but also multi-generational, and bringing all of those various levels of competency, knowledge and wisdom into the room, even if it’s only a few times a year, gives us the chance to naturally accelerate and enrich our learning experience. This is the way we’re designed to learn.
Our Halloween party next week will be another opportunity to bring our extended community together under one roof. Not only have we invited older siblings and grandparents, but also the babies and -- since it’s an evening party -- parents who are usually stuck at work while class is in session. Many of our 2-year-olds, dressed as witches and lions, will proudly take daddy or grandma by the hand and lead them on a tour of the school, sharing their own competence with someone who needs it.
At last week’s special day, Violet brought her big brother Elliott, who is now a kindergartener. If there has ever been an expert on how Woodland Park works, it’s Elliott who has been in class with us for the past 3 years. Last night at our Pre-3 parent meeting, their mother Cheryl said that Violet was looking forward to the “rolling pumpkin art project.”
I was totally confused, “What do you mean?”
“Elliott’s been telling Violet about the art project where you roll pumpkins down the gutters.”
Oh yeah! I’d forgotten all about that one. Last year, as an extension of rolling tennis balls down gutters and through tubes, we ran adding machine tape down the lengths of our gutters, then dipped those small ornamental pumpkins in orange a black paint and let them roll. I’ve already done it this year using hard rubber balls, but we have a dozen or so small pumpkins, as well as several round-ish gourds hanging around the classroom already. Elliott's right, it would be a shame to let that opportunity go to waste.
“Violet’s really looking forward to it.”
Now I am too.
Thanks, big brother. Sometimes I need the kids to take me by the hand and show me around.