Family grouping is the name given in an education and care setting to groups of children of mixed ages, and is so named as its composition more closely resembles that of a family, than the more popular choice of grouping children in care by age.
The idea is neither novel nor rare, and indeed it may be an idea whose time has come, given trends in childrearing and family size, the increasing lengths of time children spend in child care outside of the home, and the increasing academic demands on younger children in pre-schools and kindergartens.
(Lilian Katz et al - The case for mixed-age groupings in early education)
An important feature of a successfully grouped program is the understanding that everyday routines, as well as experiences or activities, are not only possible but can be beneficial for children and more interesting for the educators in a family grouped setting.
An environment that is responsive to the interests and abilities of each child, and caters for different learning capacities, most effectively supports the way children learn and develop. Therefore we believe that the Family Grouping structure provides the most appropriate setting to foster all areas of a child's early learning and development.
The benefits to the children are:
That language development occurs very well in mixed age groups where children act as role models for others with fewer language skills. Toddlers grouped with only babies and other toddlers in an education and care setting are exposed to a limited range of language skills. In family groups, the younger child is surrounded with language interactions of various levels and complexity, and as a result, may often develop language skills more rapidly than their peers in age group care.
That social and emotional development occurs appropriately in a family grouped setting. New children settle more easily and feel secure with help from siblings, and older children. The settled children help guide children who are new to the setting to learn what happens during the day, and in the process develop their own self-esteem and self-confidence. They model sharing and turn-taking for new or younger children. A less confident child can relax and interact more comfortably with younger children.
That fewer behavioural problems occur. Children of varying ages do not have to compete for the same play equipment as their play interests are often very different, and they tend to interact in more positive social ways. There is less aggression and more nurturing of others. Educators who have experienced both same and mixed age groups say toddlers are more apt to display negative behaviours when with other toddlers. This is because they are all asserting their independence and only just learning co-operation skills. In family grouping, children learn more positive behaviours from a wider age range of children. The safety of babies is sometimes raised as a concern about family grouped settings, yet we believe babies in age group care have more to fear regarding aggression or injury from another baby or toddler, than from an older child.
That physical and intellectual development is also well provided for in a family grouped setting, since each child is able to play and learn at their own pace. Children learn to accept and respect others' abilities and can themselves attempt any experience without embarrassment or a sense of failure. Older children are able to model appropriate play and problem solving to younger children while mastering and extending their own development.
However, the benefits are not only for the children. Educators have a more varied and less stressful work day in the family grouped environment. The workload is evened out as the demands from different age groups varies. Educators and children can relate in different ways depending on the situation and age and stage of the child.
Another feature of family grouping that benefits all concerned is that there is no beginning or ending to each year. The evolving nature of family grouping and the continuous booking system that we have in place will ensure that our programs operate smoothly all year round.
As you can see, family grouping has many benefits to the children, their families and the educators, and as this approach is based on the principle of consistency and continuity of care for children, it enables us to provide your child with an environment that they not only can feel safe and secure in, but one which they can develop a sense of belonging.
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