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What's the best way to group our children?

Apr 02, 2015

Over recent years it has become normal practice in nurseries to organise children into age-related groups. Our nurseries typically have ‘rooms’ for under twos, two to threes, pre-schoolers or similar.

And while this pattern may seem like the obvious way to organise things, we are reviewing whether it really is the best way. Recent changes to the way we have been ‘grouping’ children in one of our nurseries has identified a missed opportunity. By keeping the children in narrow age bands all day, every day, children are losing the opportunities to learn from each other. Perhaps social interaction is better when it’s between age groups, rather than just with children of similar ages.

Historically, day nurseries have explored different forms of group organisation. In the 1970s there was a shift away from age grouping to what was then called ”family groups”,  where each room had a mix of ages.  At Dizzy Ducks, our recent independent study on our organisation has questioned whether family groupings are better than the current way of organising our nursery.

We cater for a wide age range, and therefore there needs to be a high level of thinking about how we arrange our nursery. The needs of children may well be adequately met with groups that give them a daily base with children of a similar age. However, our recent findings have led us to believe there are real advantages for children when the nursery team actively encourages regular contact across the age ranges, rather than keeping children separated throughout the day.

Children enjoy playing with their age peers, but they also benefit from contact with older and younger children. Watching, playing, communicating and helping each other are natural experiences in families with more than one child, and we should be doing what we can to replicate this.

Older children love communicating with babies and toddlers and making them laugh. Three- and four-year-olds show sophisticated understanding of how to adjust their communication for babies and toddlers. The younger ones watch, listen, and copy.

 Affectionate relationships form across age bands. Over-threes are good at playing the repetitive 'do it again' games that are perfect for the learning of very young children. Toddlers love sharing a book with older children.

Older children are pleased to show their physical and thinking skills as they share in the care of younger ones. Of course adults remain responsible, but there are plenty of safe possibilities that support the learning of both older and younger children.

Nursery teams, who are alert to what all the children can learn, have explored ways to bring age groups together. There are many possibilities:

At nursery, we make it easy for brothers and sisters to visit each other. Without this option, siblings can be divided for all of their day. Some may really miss each other.

The practicalities of having the full day in nursery means that the beginnings and ends of a nursery day are a useful time to have mixed age groups, and you will often see this in our sites. Children enjoy coming together at this time.

What do you think about "mixed" aged groups or "family grouping" in nursery? Email me sian.nisbett@dizzyducks.co.uk.

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