My daughter, Cee, is almost two-and-a-half. Five mornings per week, she is cared for by an in-home childcare provider I’ll call Amanda. On a given day, Amanda and an assistant care for between four and eight kids ranging in age from one to six years old. The one-year-olds are just starting to walk. The six-year-old, who also attends half-day kindergarten, can read and write.
One of the reasons why we chose Amanda’s for childcare is that it allows Cee to interact with kids of different ages. When I first visited Amanda’s, the problem-solving and conflict resolution that I observed among the older kids impressed me. It was refreshing to watch, particularly after visiting chaotic childcare centers with rooms of as many as 10 two-year-olds. I imagined that Cee would learn so much from observing and playing with these more mature children.
When Cee began daycare last fall, we watched as two older girls took her under their wing, reading her stories and including her in their pretend play. Suddenly Cee was acting out complex stories at home, too, as she became aware that her imagination could make all kinds of fun. She was making us coffee, asking if we wanted it hot or cold, with milk or sugar. She was hushing us because her baby doll was sleeping. And she could not stop talking about her friend, the kindergartener, who rode on a real, honest-to-goodness school bus. We also watched, proudly, when she stuck up for herself and brushed off older kids if their play was too intense for her. She seemed to make a huge developmental leap within a couple of weeks of starting childcare.
I’ve also noticed that the friend that Cee talks about the most at home, and the one that she hugs the longest when she says goodbye, is a little girl just 2 weeks younger than her. I’ve witnessed them engaged in complex, interactive play together, where neither is the obvious leader or follower. And while I think Cee is doing great in her mixed-age childcare setting, I wonder if I’ll feel differently about this as she gets older. We could keep her at Amanda’s through kindergarten, but when she’s four or five, will hanging out with toddlers be a bore? Should we consider moving Cee to a preschool where she’ll be surrounded by kids her own age? Is mixed-age grouping helpful for preschoolers, or does it slow them down? Read more