ERIC Identifier: ED308990
Publication Date: 1989-00-00
Author: Evangelou, Demetra
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Mixed-Age Groups in Early Childhood Education. ERIC Digest.
The practice of educating children in mixed-age groups in early childhood
education, including the primary grades, has a long history. Mixed-age grouping
has also been known as "heterogeneous, multi-age, vertical, ungraded" or
"nongraded," and "family grouping." Cross-age tutoring is another method of
altering traditional ways of grouping children in their early years.
If current trends in maternal employment continue, increasing numbers of
young children will spend larger proportions of their preschool years in care
outside of their homes (Katz, 1988). Young children who are cared for at home
are unlikely to spend large amounts of time in groups of children of the same
age. Natural family units are typically heterogeneous in age. The family group
provides all members with the opportunity to observe, emulate and initiate a
wide range of competencies.
It is assumed that the wider the range of competencies manifested in a
mixed-age group, the greater the opportunities for group members to develop
relationships and friendships with others who match, complement, or supplement
the participants' own needs and styles. The greater diversity of maturity and
competence present in a mixed-age group, as compared to a same-age group,
provides a sufficient number of models to allow most participants to identify
models suitable for their learning.
Given that spontaneously formed peer groups are typically heterogeneous in
composition, the separation of children into same-age groups in early childhood
education settings is questionable. This grouping practice is based on the
assumption that chronological age is the single most reliable developmental
index. This assumption has led to the extensive screening and testing related to
kindergarten entrance. But developmental indexes other than chronological
age--indexes such as social, emotional, and cognitive level of maturity--can be
ADVANTAGES OF MIXED-AGE CLASSES
In mixed-age classes, it
may be easier for kindergarten and preschool teachers to resist the "push-down"
tendency--the trend to introduce the primary school curriculum into kindergarten
and preschool classes (Gallagher & Coche, 1987). Because mixed-age grouping
invites cooperation and other prosocial behaviors, the discipline problems of
competitive environments can often be minimized.
A mixture of ages within a class can be particularly desirable for children
functioning below age group norms in some areas of their development. These
children may find it less stressful to interact with younger peers than with
same-age peers. Such interactions can enhance younger children's motivation and
SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT IN MIXED-AGE GROUPS
are often treated as indices of social development. Prosocial behaviors such as
help-giving, sharing, and turn-taking facilitate interaction and promote
socialization. Social perceptions also play an important role in the development
of social competence. They are an essential part of a child's increasing social
awareness. The formation of friendships is often based on a child's perceptions
of the roles of peers in a variety of social contexts.
Research evidence suggests that children of different ages are usually aware
of differences and attributes associated with age. Consequently, both younger
and older children in mixed-age groups differentiate their expectations
depending on the ages of the participants. Interaction in mixed-age groups
elicits prosocial behaviors that are important in the social development of the
A number of studies indicate that mixed-age grouping can provide remedial
benefits for at-risk children. For example, it has been established that
children are more likely to exhibit prosocial behaviors (Whiting, 1983) and
offer instruction (Ludeke & Hartup, 1983) to younger peers than to
age-mates. Children are also more likely to establish friendships (Hartup, 1976)
and exhibit aggression with age-mates, and to display dependency with older
children. The availability of younger and therefore less threatening peers in
mixed-age groups offers the possibility of remedial effects for children whose
social development is at risk.
COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT IN MIXED-AGE GROUPS
that the effect of mixed-age grouping on cognition is likely to derive from the
cognitive conflict arising from children's interaction with peers of different
levels of cognitive maturity. In their discussion of cognitive conflict, Brown
and Palinscar (1986) make the point that the contribution of such cognitive
conflict to learning is not simply that the less-informed child imitates the
more knowledgeable one. The interaction between the children leads the
less-informed member to internalize new understandings.
Along the same lines, Vygotsky (1978) maintains that the internalization of
new understandings, or "cognitive restructuring," occurs when concepts are
actually transformed and not merely replicated. According to Vygotsky,
internalization takes place when children interact within the "zone of proximal
development." Vygotsky (1978) defines this zone as "the distance between the
actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the
level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult
guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (p.86).
Slavin (1987) suggests that in terms of the Vygotskian concept of the "zone
of proximal development," the discrepancy between what an individual can do with
and without assistance can be the basis for cooperative peer efforts that result
in cognitive gains. In Slavin's view, "collaborative activity among children
promotes growth because children of similar ages are likely to be operating
within one another's zones of proximal development, modeling in the
collaborating group behaviors more advanced than those they could perform as
individuals" (p. 1162). Brown and Reeve (1985) maintain that instruction aimed
at a wide range of abilities allows the novice to learn at his own rate and to
manage various cognitive challenges in the presence of "experts."
IMPLICATIONS FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
interaction among young children can offer a variety of developmental benefits
to all participants. However, this is not to suggest that merely mixing children
of different ages in a group will guarantee that the benefits mentioned earlier
will be realized. Before grouping, one must consider the optimum age range, the
proportion of older to younger children, the allocation of time to the mixed-age
group and the curriculum and teaching strategies that will maximize the
educational benefits for the group. The empirical data on the educational
principles that should guide instruction in mixed-age environments are not yet
available. When the data become available, they should support the position that
mixed-age group interaction can have unique adaptive, facilitating and enriching
effects on children's development.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Brown, A.L., and Palinscar, A. GUIDED
COOPERATIVE LEARNING AND INDIVIDUAL KNOWLEDGE ACQUISITION (Technical Rep. No.
372). Champaign, IL: Center for the Study of Reading, 1986.
Brown, A.L., and Reeve, R.A. BANDWIDTHS OF COMPETENCE: THE ROLE OF SUPPORTIVE CONTEXTS IN LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT (Technical Rep. No. 336). Champaign, IL: Center for the Study of Reading,
Gallagher, J.M., and Coche, J. "Hothousing: The Clinical and Educational
Concerns Over Pressuring Young Children." EARLY CHILDHOOD RESEARCH QUARTERLY,
2(3), (1987): 203-210.
Hartup, W.W. "Cross-Age Versus Same-Age Interaction: Ethological and
Cross-Cultural Perspectives." In V.L. Allen (Ed.) CHILDREN AS TEACHERS: THEORY
AND RESEARCH ON TUTORING. New York: Academic Press, 1976, pp. 41-54.
Katz, Lilian G. EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION: WHAT RESEARCH TELLS US. Phi Delta
Kappa Fastback, No. 280. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational
Ludeke, R.J., and Hartup, W.W. "Teaching Behavior of 9- and 11-Year-Old Girls
in Mixed-Age and Same-Age Dyads." JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY, 75(6),
Slavin, R.E. "Developmental and Motivational Perspectives on Cooperative
Learning: A Reconciliation." CHILD DEVELOPMENT, 58 (1987): 1161-1167.
Vygotsky, L.S. MIND IN SOCIETY: THE DEVELOPMENT OF HIGHER PSYCHOLOGICAL
PROCESSES. Edited by M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.
Whiting, B.B. "The Genesis of Prosocial Behavior." In D. Bridgeman (Ed.) THE
NATURE OF PROSOCIAL DEVELOPMENT. Academic Press: New York, 1983.