A wonderful and unique reality at The Cottage School is the opportunity for students to interact with children of a variety of ages. Though the children are separated into groups and explore different subjects independently, the beginning of the day always starts with everyone together in Morning Circle, lunch is eaten together and multiple opportunities for the children to interact with older and younger children are presented throughout the day.
We asked Toni Welsh, a Neuropsychologist at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, to compile some research on Multiage Classrooms. Toni has experience working therapeutically with children in various clinical settings and schools. She is also the mother of two children who attend The Cottage School.
The Benefits of Multiage Classrooms – Toni Welsh
At The Cottage School , rather than being confined to a classroom with peers whose ages are only a few months apart, children are able to gain something from other children who may be a few months or a few years different in age. For example, it is not uncommon for a Kindergartener to be assisting a preschooler with putting on his shoes or for a child in elementary school to be organizing a game on the playground for the preschoolers and Kindergarteners.
Some people may fear that if an older child must assist a younger child, this will hold back the progress of the older child. The opposite, however, is true. Teaching helps a child more deeply understand a concept. She has to analyze and rearrange her own store of knowledge before she can pass it along to another person. Of course this process also builds empathy and nurturance, as well as confidence and feelings of competence, which are other wonderful effects of such an interaction.
The teachers are not excluded from this mixed age socialization either! They always sit amongst the children at their lunch tables and during circle time. Through this interaction, students of varying ages and teachers exchange shared experiences that allow them to form stronger bonds together, which leads to secure attachment in their relationships. Howes and Ritchie (1999) found that teacher-student relationships predicted children’s social competence and children with secure teacher-student relationships played in more complex ways with their peers
Segregation of age in schools is a relatively recent phenomenon that runs counter to the pattern of schooling and raising children that existed prior to that time. Children and all young primates have historically used the context of mixed-age play to move from dependence on their mother to independence in adulthood. Through this play, the young learn social roles and nurturing skills leading to more harmony among members compared to same-age groups. Rhoades (1966) found that children in a nongraded elementary school chose friends from two years older to two years younger than themselves. Other research on multiage classrooms demonstrated that these students outperformed their peers, made more progress in self-concept, and were more altruistic and sociable than those in age-segregated classrooms (Bizman, 1978; Goldman, 1981; Hammack, 1974; Milburn, 1981). Socially, prosocial behavior has been connected with mixed-age classrooms. Fewer children typically experience social isolation and aggressive and negative behaviors are significantly reduced (McClellan and Kinsey, 1997).
Pepperdine professor and psychotherapist, Lou Cozolino, believes that incorporating an understanding of attachment theory and social neuroscience into our educational system is key. He proposed that relationships are imperative in improving academic performance and he discussed his idea of a “tribal classroom”. He stated that “a tribal classroom simulates an environment of collaboration, mutual support, and secure attachment.” In this type of environment, children at one end of the skill spectrum are able to learn from those at the other end. This is able to occur when ages are mixed. Everyone is able to feel as if they contribute and belong. Just like traditional tribes, both students and teachers sit in circles and each individual brings something to the table. Education is a part of life and occurs through the context of daily activity. A natural family-like environment is created, which is what the children, families, and teachers experience daily at The Cottage School. Ultimately, the brain is able to be stimulated in ways that enhance learning (Howes, 2014).
The more a classroom parallels the dynamics of natural social systems, the more that attachment relationships and the social structure of the group will optimize learning via neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to reorganize and form new connections. The more the emotional climate of the classroom matches the characteristics of tribal life, the better students and teachers perform (Cozolino 2014).
To learn more about The Cottage School, visit www.thecottageschools.net
Bizman, A., Yinon, Y., Mivitzari, E., & Shavit, R. (1978). Effects of the age structure of the kindergarten on altruistic behavior. Journal of School Psychology, 16, 154-160.
Cozolino, L. (2014). Attachment-based teaching: Creating a tribal classroom. New York: W. W.
Norton & Company.
Goldman, A. (1981). Social participation of preschool children in same versus mixed-age groups. Child Development, 52, 644-650.
Hammack, B.G. (1975). Self-concept: Evaluation of preschool children in single and multi-age classroom settings. Dissertation Abstracts International, 35, 6572-6573.
Howes, R. (September 2014). The tribal classroom: Applying attachment theory in schools. An interview with Lou Cozolino, Psychology Networker. Retrieved on March 25, 2017 from https://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/magazine/article/86/point-of-view.
Howes, C., & Ritchie, S. (1999). Attachment organizations in children with difficult life circumstances. Development and Psychopathology, 11, 251–268. doi:10.1017/S0954579499002047.
McClellan, D. E. & Kinsey, S. (April 1997). Children’s social behavior in relationship to participation in mixed-age or same-age classrooms. Paper presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Washington, DC.
Milburn, D. (1981). A study of multi-age or family-grouped classrooms. Phi Delta Kappan, 62,513-514.
Rhoades, W.M. (1966). Erasing grade lines. The Elementary School Journal, 67, 140-145.