Category Archives: multi-age

A Case for Multi-Age Grouping

Posted September 29, 2016

By Amy Lemieux

One morning in the preschool, four children assembled in our big block area. There were two older children, a boy and a girl, with two younger children, both boys.

“I’m not building. I’m drawing what we’re going to make,” an older girl tells me, as three boys haul the big blocks onto the carpeting. She is holding a clipboard, drawing on her paper.

Talking louder, directed more toward the boys than me this time, “Then we gotta make OUR house to keep US dry.” It is currently pouring outside and the boys appear not to be listening to her as they build a birdhouse to “keep the birds safe” in the words of the older boy.

“OK, guys. We’ll need a long piece – 2.5 inches long. We need more long pieces and a bunch of small ones and…” she continues to give directions that they ignore.

The oldest boy, who actually has been listening to her monologue says, “We’re making a birdhouse to keep the birdies safe. Come on, guys! We can do this!” The younger boys parrot him, ‘Yeah. We’re building a birdhouse.”

Throughout this exchange, these things become clear:
– the girl understands that some of the kids are lacking sufficient direction for a successful house
– the older boy, while appearing in charge of the younger two, is giving no direction other than words of encouragement
– parroting is the extent of the younger boys’ contribution to the dialogue. They contribute muscle power, but ideas and plans for action are absent.

A mixed-age group plays with blocks

A mixed-age group plays with blocks

The three boys repeatedly state they’re building a birdhouse but there is no cooperation in the construction, nor is there any direction given by the older boy as they continue stacking blocks onto one large pile that lacks stability. Their foundation happens to be our large ramp blocks, which has created a precarious structure.

Girl: “Now we gotta build the REAL model.”
Older boy: “This IS the real model.”
Younger boys parroting: “Yeah. This IS the real model.”
Girl: “But how can it be real when we can’t even get into it?” She gestures at the pile of unstable blocks, impossible to enter like a real house.
At this time several blocks start sliding off each other, creating a domino effect. Everyone stops what they’re doing as blocks slide and crash.

Older boy: “OK, guys. We need to make a real house now.” He joins the girl to start drawing a model of what they should build next.

The younger boys knock the remaining blocks down, satisfied with the noise. Once the blocks are all down, they wait, unsure of what to do next. No ideas are offered.

Girl: “This is why I told you guys that this was too messy.”
Older boy: “Yeah! This is not even a real house.”

The older boy and girl join forces now. “OK, everyone. Back up! This is not safe. We need to make a house that is real now.”

The younger boys go along with the new plan without question. They back up and watch the older ones, trying to figure out what is expected. “We need flat blocks so they don’t all fall.” The younger boys begin collecting the square and rectangular blocks to build a base, and the structure grows, though not as big or as disorganized as the first one. When one younger boy grabs a ramp block for their house, it is immediately rejected by the older children. “No. Only the flat blocks.” They continue building until the older children are satisfied.

Girl: “OK guys. It’s looking awesome.”
Older boy: “OK. It’s all ready. Dinner time! Everybody get some food and dig in!”

The group of four heads into the kitchen area. Together they collect plates, bowls, and play food to carry back to their new house. They set a table and sit down to a feast, at which time the younger boys finally begin to speak. “This is delicious!” “Who wants more pizza?” Now everyone is in their comfort zone, and no direction is needed from the older children. Everyone knows what to do at dinner time!