Home > Blog > Early Childhood > The Benefits of Multi-Age Learning Environments
Remember battling with a younger sibling over whose turn it was to play with a certain toy? Or trying to communicate with your Gen-Z/Millennial/Gen-X colleagues? Our lives are filled with moments where we learn to navigate environments and develop meaningful relationships with people of all ages. It is a critical part of the human experience.
Although standard classrooms are divided by age, especially in a preschool, developmental ranges can be widespread, as a child who turned three in July is at a different stage than one who turns four in October. Our E-T ECC program in D.C. embraces a multi-age learning environment where children ages two through five learn and grow together in the same classroom.
Multi-age settings nurture empathy and inclusion as the children learn to identify the needs of others and produce solutions or adaptations that include everyone in the life of the class. As the children in our multi-aged Teva Class take ownership over different jobs throughout the day, such as turning off lights when we leave a room, they learn to navigate taking turns or develop systems that feel fair to the group.
A few weeks ago, a child suggested it was her friend’s turn to switch the light off, but when he couldn’t reach it, they went into problem-solving mode. First, they tried having him jump, but it was still too far. Next, one suggested a stool, and together the two pulled one over to the light. As the child climbed up and successfully turned off the light, he looked back, smiling broadly at his friend. “You’re so happy because I had a great idea!” the other exclaimed with pride, having come up with a solution to help her friend.
When children master a skill, they learn to take on leadership roles as they support others working to get to the same level. While the most traditional example of this is older children taking younger ones under their wing and showing them how to do something, we embrace the unique skills and strengths of all children regardless of age, which means younger children also have opportunities to bring their ideas and experiences to the table, just as younger colleagues may assist with technology questions.
One of our youngest children is an avid baker, and whenever the class offers a baking experience, he is one of the first to help prepare the table and will eagerly call over the other children to join! No matter their age or abilities, children develop pride in their capabilities and learn to support one another as they take on new challenges and master new skills.
Our emergent curriculum responds to the individual needs of each child, rooted in their developmental stage while also building off the inquiries and interests of the group. Recently, one of our Pre-K children in the Teva Class created a book called Firefighters Go to See the Dog That Was In the Fire Building, writing the narrative with support from her teachers, and then drawing illustrations to match. When she shared the story with her class during the morning meeting, many of the children were eager to take on the roles of characters from the book — such as the dog, owner, and firefighter — as they brought the story to life, adding their own details and ideas along the way. This experience sparked continued interest in storytelling, as some children were inspired to create their own stories through drawing, writing, and painting, while children who were not yet at that developmental stage interacted through dramatic play — building their verbal communication skills as they re-enacted scenes they observed from their older peers and developing new narratives around common themes emerging in the class’s stories.
All our programs value opportunities for children of different ages to interact and build relationships. This multi-age environment mimics the natural family setting, supporting young children as they transition from home and into school, and prepare to move into a more formal elementary school setting. Family and community are core to all our programming at Washington Hebrew, and what better way to begin young children’s Jewish and secular education than in an intimate school setting that inhabits these values within its daily life?
Registration for our ECCs in both D.C. and Maryland is now open! Reach out to Kristin Zeldes or Kfirah HaLevi, or visit
whctemple.org/ecc to learn more.
3935 Macomb Street NW
Washington, DC 20016
11810 Falls Road
Potomac, MD 20854
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