In the Classroom: The Caterpillars

Older Caterpillars care for their younger peers

Mixed age. Many benefits.

When new families join the Caterpillars, they may be concerned with the classroom being a mixed-aged room, as are all the infant/young toddler classes at PIC. The present age range in the Caterpillars is 4-21 months.
Families may wonder whether it’s best to leave their children in a mixed-age environment. 
Our mixed age group is more of a family environment—we are a family! And just like in a family, we see the older Caterpillars nurture the younger ones.
One day as the Caterpillars were finger-painting, one of the infants started to cry. Even before a teacher got there, one of the older Caterpillars rushed over to the baby.
We watched closely to see what the older Caterpillar would do. She gently rubbed the infant on his legs and arms, and kissed his forehead. Immediately the infant stopped crying and started smiling.
A mixed-age group classroom like ours supports social and emotional learning. This is one of the ways children form bonds and relationships. Children who are settled and older often take on leadership roles and support those who are less capable and competent than they are. At the same time, they are building self-confidence and self-esteem. 
The older ones model turn taking and sharing for the younger ones. Children with no younger siblings at home have opportunities to be a big "sister" or "brother."
Language development is also stimulated as children are surrounded by language of different levels and complexity. With age range being so wide, the Caterpillars communicate in many ways, both non-verbal and verbal. They pick up language from one another daily.
One of the biggest benefits of a mixed-age room is that, besides learning from their teachers, the Caterpillars learn from each other.