mixed ages having fun
Posted on / in News, Preschool

Top Benefits of Mixed-Age Grouping in Early Education

We're now enrolling a small number of 2 year olds which adds learning benefits for our 3 to 6 year olds.

As a parent, you only want what is best for your child and choosing the perfect childcare, preschool or family daycare can be extremely challenging for parents. Not only are you handing over the care of your most prized creation, but you expect your child to learn, develop social skills and be loved.

At Sustainable Play Preschool we provide preschool education for children aged 2 to 6 years. Children engage in a wholesome and holistically enriching environment where they take the lead and educators support their learning and exploration. We implement mixed-age grouping which means that every preschooler – from 2 to 6 years old – has full access to utilise all our indoor and outdoor learning environments. Mixed-age grouping means that we welcome all ages of children to engage in the preschool activities and programming that we have planned for the day.

benefits of mixed age grouping sandpit

We are proud to offer families this inclusive, research-supported learning environment that provides endless possibilities for all types of social, behavioral and cognitive development throughout our varied playgrounds and classrooms. Read on for our top benefits of mixed-age grouping. 

Benefits for Younger Children - 2 to 3 year olds

1. Exposure to advanced language skills.

Children aged 2-3 are exposed to more advanced language levels and complexity shared by older children, which helps to develop their communication skills. The simplest of statements such as “Hi, I’m Carter” or “Can I play with you?” provides a younger child with a demonstration of language skills required to develop their social skills and an introduction of how to make friends. Observing and listening to other children express themselves, e.g. “I feel angry” or “I need help”, enables a child to associate appropriate words to feelings and action, which increases their ability to self-regulate and develop emotional awareness.

2. More complex play episodes.

When younger children play with older children, the play is often more complex. Children who are older in age or are more developmentally advanced extend on younger children’s ideas. Younger children often look up to older children and are able to follow the ideas suggested to them and become more involved in the play. Lev Vygotsky coined the term zone of ‘proximal development’ to refer to the set of activities that a child cannot do alone or with others of the same ability, but can do in collaboration with others who are more skilled, older or through practice. Mixed-age grouping beautifully supports children as they explore in their particular zone of proximal development.

3. Learning from older children.

Younger children watch, follow and learn from observation and practice. By playing and learning in an environment that includes older children, younger children experience more opportunities to learn problem-solving skills and to see how trial and error can support the evolution of new knowledge. 

4. More love, support and nurturing.

In the early learning environment, there are a number of adults there to support, love and nurture children. When we provide mixed-age group play, the offer of support increases dramatically as older children mimic the actions of how the adults in their lives nurture younger children. They support younger children to achieve goals, they offer cuddles, encouragement and make sure the little ones are safe.

5. Relatable family dynamics.

Outside of preschool, children learn a great deal from having fun and exploring with their younger siblings, older siblings, cousins or friends. Mixed-age grouping in an early childhood setting enables children to play with others of various ages, learning new ways of doing and of being. Children tend to gravitate towards each other and amazing friendships are established between children of all ages. 

mixed ages playing sustainable play

Benefits for Older Children - 3 to 6 year olds

1. Opportunities to play with developmentally similar playmates.

Children that are shy, less confident or have developmental delays will experience less peer judgement for not being at the same level as their similarly aged playmates when there are younger children around. They get the chance to mix with younger children or children with similar abilities and interests, which enables them to become confident explorers as they master new skills at their own developmental pace.

2. Development of confidence and leadership skills.

Children with a high level of competence are able to practice their leadership skills and offer support to those who are younger or children who may be less capable or confident. They provide direction to support others, enforce class rules and ensure the safety and wellbeing of those nearby.

3. Practice nurturance.

Older children are able to practice nurturance as they mimic the role of a mother, father or carer, when interacting with younger children. While caring for younger children, older children develop leadership qualities at an early age, enabling them to become independent and confident individuals.

4. Language versatility.

When communicating with younger children, older children may be required to make amendments to their language so that they’re understood by younger children. They may be required to increase or differ their body language to support the verbal cues given to younger children. 

5. A chance to be wiser.

When older children engage with younger children, they’re able to easily identify that their own abilities are more advanced than others. They quickly learn that their knowledge and awareness is also more advanced than those younger than them. This enables children who may be used to being the youngest in their family, to be the stronger and wiser person. Imagine the boost of confidence this could bring to your child!

mixed age grouping bush kindy

Our educators are trained to identify a child’s needs and to adapt, plan and implement different teaching strategies accordingly to support the learning and development of every child. They’re able to identify each child’s uniqueness and work collaboratively with families to ensure the best opportunities are provided for every child.

Educators support the preschoolers’ social and emotional learning through intentional teaching and through individual and group learning experiences. At Sustainable Play, we have established focus groups which support educators in truly understanding each child and in developing ways to meet that child’s individual needs. It does not mean educators only care for children within their focus group or stay within children’s allocated rooms. All educators work across our preschool, caring for and bonding with all children.

In a research review by psychologist Peter Gray, ‘The Special Value of Children’s Age-Mixed Play’, Gray evaluates studies comparing three types of pairings, 1) 2 year olds with other 2 year olds, 2) 5 year olds with other 5 year olds, and 3) 2 year olds with 5 year olds. The research concludes that the pairs of 5 year olds played in much more complex ways—and much more socially—than did the pairs of 2 year olds. Interestingly, the 5 year olds played at the same advanced level when paired with 2 year olds as they did when paired with other 5 year olds, and they used a variety of verbal and nonverbal scaffolding techniques to draw the 2 year olds to their level of play.” (Source)

Parental Fears of Mixed-Age Grouping

Fears of a parent enroling a younger child
“What if my child feels overwhelmed or lost?”
“Will this make my child grow up too fast?”
Fears of a parent enroling an older child
“Will my child be under-stimulated?”
“Will my child regress from playing with younger children?

Parental fears are generally very similar regardless of the way children are grouped or the age of the child being enrolled. There are wide developmental ranges between all children, from developmental differences seen between a 4 year old and a 5 year old and between two children of the same age. Every child is different and we understand that each and every child develops at their own pace and within their own abilities. We believe children will reach their milestones, be they physical, social, behavioral or cognitive, when their body and mind are ready – we’ll be there offering love and patient support as they grow!

bush kindy mixed age grouping

We have limited capacity for 2 year olds, so we will likely fill up soon.

Please reserve your child’s spot by enroling them now or by joining the waitlist so that you’ll be first to hear about openings. If you haven’t already, book a preschool tour to get a sense of what your child’s day with us will be like! We look forward to hearing from you!

preschool 2 year olds lake macquarie
Written By

An advocate for children’s education and sustainable living, Kirsty has worked in Early Childhood Education since 2009, with 6 of these years as an Educational Leader.

As the Preschool Director, Kirsty supports play-based learning and believes that positive learning experiences in the early years sets up the foundation for a life-long love of learning. She leads by example and treats others with respect, encouraging educators to work to their strengths and supports them in developing their capabilities with mentoring and guidance.