(Note: A few weeks ago, a parent asked me about my thoughts on the advantages of multi-aged preschool education, specifically wanting to know why she should enroll her daughter in our 3-5’s class next year. She encouraged me to put it in the form of a blog post. In the interest of heeding those regular Teacher Tom readers who have complained about not being able to keep up with all the words I’ve spilled here over the past few months, I’ve broken my response into more bite-sized posts. This is the third and shortest one; the first is here, and the second here.)
Nearly all of the research and discussion around multi-age education revolves around the benefits of combining children of various ages in a single classroom. I’ve never seen anything academic on the topic of including adults of various ages into the mix as well, but that’s what we do in a cooperative preschool. On any given day, the age span of the teachers in our classroom ranges from 20 to 70, and every age in between. And if it’s a “special guest” day (e.g., a day when the public schools are not in session and we are) we’ll also see an influx of elementary school aged kids, meaning that the only age demographic we’re routinely missing are teenagers.
This is the real world. It’s not manufactured, it’s not artificial. The young nanny may not always handle conflict in the “proper” pedagogical manner, but she more than makes up for it in this case with the energy and charm of youth, something 20 years in my past. A grandfather may not guide his charge through the intricacies of a puzzle the way I would, but his patience and life-experience, something 20 years in my future, brings a quality to the interaction that in this instance outweighs the textbook approach.
I often compare our school to the neighborhood of my youth, a place where the kids of all ages spent their days playing in whichever backyard or bedroom was most convenient. We might not have always been on our parents’ radars, but there was always an adult or older kid we could call on if we needed help. It was a good thing that they didn’t always do things the way our mothers did. When stern Mrs. Cozart, for instance, spread my ham sandwich with mayo, there was something about her that caused me to choke it down without my usual fuss, giving me a solid lesson in trying new things. Playing tackle football with John Sain, who was 2 years older and not interested in coddling us, taught us that we needed to work together if we were going to pull him down. We learned the words we shouldn’t say from the young and beautiful Mrs. Broom.
A well-rounded education is about exposing children to the whole world. A 20-year-old woman sees a different world than a 47-year-old teacher, and neither of us have the perspective of a 70-year-old grandpa. Each of us have our own way of conveying what we know. That’s the way we learn in the real world.
Happy New Year!