Advantages of the multi-age classroom
One major advantage to children in multiage classrooms is the modeling that takes place. Younger students will imitate academic and social behaviors demonstrated by older children. In addition to this unintended, natural modeling, older students can also provide direct instruction to younger students. When older children ‘teach’ newly learned skills to younger classmates, they strengthen their own understanding of these skills.
2. Real Life Setting
Students in a multiage classroom have an environment with increased similarity of the real world. Certainly, grouping students strictly by age does not reflect a naturalistic life-like setting in which people of different ages learn from each other.
Every year or two, depending on the length of the program, students in multiage classrooms become the experienced students in the room. This phenomenon leads to the natural assumption of leadership roles in play and classroom activities. Children who would be reluctant to take charge in a graded classroom have a greater sense of responsibility because they are the oldest in the class, and try various leadership roles. The assumption of these responsibilities increases the confidence of the older students as well. Since older students develop their leadership skills, younger students are given opportunities to engage in more complex activities than they could initiate on their own.
4. Character Building
Multiage classrooms provide older students with the valuable experience of developing their nurturing skills. These skills, crucial to parenting, manifest themselves naturally in a mixed-age setting. Mixed-age grouping can provide older children with the opportunity to be helpful, patient, and tolerant of younger peers’ competencies, and thus give them some of the desirable early experiences of being nurturing that underlie parenting and helping others who are different from oneself. The presence of younger children also helps antisocial older children. Younger children are particularly helpful in reducing the isolation of socially withdrawn older children. Also, helping others can help older students’ sense of self-confidence. Being needed and admired by less able students improves a student’s self-concept.
In a group of children of different ages, competition is reduced and the atmosphere is generally collaborative. The group becomes a supportive family. Competition among students is replaced by a growing sense of community. There is less bullying, more taking turns, and greater social responsibility. Work in cooperative groups also improves because of the varying ages. The children in a multiage classroom form a cohesive group and learn to support each other rather than to compete.
6. Learning at your own pace
In a graded classroom, students are expected to be at approximately the same level academically and to learn at the same rate simply because their chronological ages are the same. Since multiage classrooms include students of different ages, they are expected to be at different levels. Students in multiage classrooms are not ostracized for being in a lower group as they might be in graded classrooms. They also benefit from extra time to master necessary material without the stigma of having failed.
The multiage classroom becomes a positive, nurturing, and safe environment for its students. When this type of environment is provided, the result is happy children. Multiage education emphasizes building upon strengths which builds self-esteem. It also focuses on the whole child, not just his academic skills; a child’s gift for social interaction or artistic expression is valued as well. When students are happier in their school environment, they learn better and are less likely to cause discipline problems.