Great schools never stop evolving and don’t shy away from trying new ideas.
Next school year (2019-2020) St. Thomas will open a mixed-age-group preschool class where 3 and 4-year-olds learn together; this idea is new to St. Thomas, but has been a standard practice in many early child education circles for decades. This new program will exist only for our partial week Pre-K classes, MWF and T-Th classes respectively. Our 5-day-a-week classes will remain as single-age group classes.
How does it work?
The preschool day will consist of all the typical happenings you would expect in a single-age class: morning circle time, outdoor play, snack, etc. just side by side with younger or older students respectively. Academic lessons (pre-literacy or numeracy skills for example) are taught in small groups of 2-3 children rather than as a whole class. This enables a 3-year-old who is ready to read and count the opportunity to hone those skills, and for 4-year-olds to receive the instruction that will prepare them for kindergarten.
What’s the benefit?
Mixed age preschool classrooms have been studied for decades, and the research suggests several benefits for both the younger and older students. One of the most frequently discussed areas of research has to do with the social dynamics within mixed age classrooms. Younger children learn more prosocial behaviors from observing and interacting with older kids, and older students in turn learn valuable social skills like listening,patience, and adaptability, and In addition to these social-emotional benefits for all students, further studies have demonstrated benefits for the younger and older children respectively.
For the younger students (3-year olds):
For the older students (4-year olds):
What are the challenges?
There is no detriment to mixed age group classes for either the younger or older children. The biggest challenge falls on the teacher to be able to differentiate instruction to students based on their development (rather than their grade-level), which is something St. Thomas teachers are quite experienced in!
If you are interested in reading more about the benefits of mixed age classrooms, you can check out this 2011 article for the American Journal of Play.