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3 Ways to Maximize Your Mixed Age Child Care

We'll let you in on a little secret... Teaching mixed ages is the special sauce of childhood development. 

Fill 1Created with Sketch.Hannah-Laura
Fill 1Created with Sketch.Sep 17, 2021

So, you're thinking about teaching mixed ages? You're in the right place.

First, learn about the ages and stages of children 0-5 and discover your preferences.

Guiding questions to ask yourself:

  • What ages do I enjoy?
  • What experience do I have working with children ages 0-5?
  • Do I enjoy nurturing and meeting the needs of others?
  • Do I enjoy watching children learn and experience things for the first time?
  • Do I have the patience and flexibility to embrace where the day takes me?
  • Where is the gap between community needs and existing services? 
  • What needs aren’t being met?

If there is a saturation in your area of programs offering full-time care for two-to-five-year-olds during traditional, weekday hours, then maybe you could offer very early morning, overnight, weekend, or evening care, or specifically, care for infants up to two years old. By identifying the existing options in your area, you can determine what your community needs and what will make your business successful.

Learn about ages and stages

Infants and Toddlers

Responsive caregiving requires careful observation, knowledge of child development, and respect for each child’s temperament, interests, and capabilities. Early relationships promote a sense of security that supports healthy brain development, social and emotional skills, and language and literacy development that can have a lasting impact. 

Due to the supervision needs and responsive care required for infants (feeding, diapering, cuddling, etc.) the rate of pay is higher and the ratio is lower for infant care. In addition, infant care can be hard to find so it is typically in high demand.

Preschool

As children grow into early childhood, their world will begin to open up. They will become more independent and want to explore and ask about the things around them even more. When children are young and starting to learn, they are willing participants in the education process with you. 

You can care for a larger group of preschool children at one time which can lead to greater income. Planning for daily activities and routines is easier when you are only considering a similar age group of children.

Magic of Mixed Ages

Children are able to spend longer periods of time with you. This allows you to develop a deeper understanding of a child’s strengths and needs, and are therefore in a better position to support the child’s learning. You can also establish a stronger family partnership. Each child is taught according to his or her own strengths, unlike in same-grade classrooms that often expect all children to be at the same place at the same time without regard to their ability.

Children develop a sense of community with their friends. Mixed-age learning supports a cooperative, caring learning environment. Older children learn how to set a good example by role modeling while younger children listen and learn from you and their peer interactions.

Here are the 3 Ways to Maximize Your Mixed Age Child Care

1. Understanding child development

Dive into child development to gain a deeper understanding of the 'why' behind your decisions. By understanding learning standards you can work with kids of all ages and stages of development. 

Developmental Domains are groups of skills that children explore, try, learn, and—one day—master. Examples include Emotional and Social, Communication (Language and Literacy), Physical, Cognitive. 

Emotional and Social is the child’s experience, expression, management of emotions, and the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others. Communication is the ability to understand others (i.e., receptive language) and express oneself. Physical Is the ability to use their bodies with purpose, skill, and control. Cognitive Is the building of concept knowledge and thinking skills through relationships, active exploration, and experience.

2. Building a schedule for mixed ages

Learn how to build a schedule that works for babies, big kids, and everyone in between. 

Here are things to consider:

  1. Set out open-ended activities
  2. Materials that interest children-DAP
  3. Encourage peer learning
  4. Focus on individual or small group activities
  5. Daily schedules
  6. Family-style meals
  7. Food health and safety

Remember to stay consistent. Stick to the same schedule so that children can settle in and know what to expect every day. Alternate direction and independence. Switch between teacher- and child-directed activities. Be responsive. Schedule activities so preschoolers can play independently while infants get 1:1 attention.

Make sure there’s a wide range of choices, like unit blocks, magnetic tiles, LEGO bricks, play dough, and sensory tubs. Provide some materials that are used specifically for an age group. Not all toys or areas need to be "one size fits all." It’s totally fine to have some toys that are of specific interest for only one age group.

Always encourage peer learning. Children learn and interact differently with peers than with adults. This can come naturally with children in home-based child care. Make sure to break up activities when working with groups. Use grouping patterns to encourage children to participate in group activities at their developmental level for the best experience for all ages.

Caring for mixed ages can be a balancing act. Different-aged children need different things at different times. Schedule activities when infants need individual attention (i.e. feeding) during times when preschoolers are more independent (i.e. free play).

Your daily program schedule should include each of these sections:

  1. Breakfast and Transitional Play. Children eat breakfast then play while others finish.
  2. Whole Group Time. Children gather for an activity together.
  3. Outdoor Play. It's adventure time! Activities should be broken into 30-minute blocks.
  4. Free Play. Children choose different learning centers to play and explore.
  5. Lunch. Eating a healthy lunch together promotes community.
  6. Nap and Quiet Time. All children are encouraged to lie down and relax. 
  7. Snack Time. This is a gentle transition from napping to relaxing before going home.

Pro Tip: Scatter big blocks of child-directed play throughout the day, like:

  1. Transitional play
  2. Free play
  3. Outdoor play
  4. Whole group times

If you serve meals while children are in your care, we recommend family-style meals. When children eat together, they learn social skills, gross motor skills, and healthy eating habits. To help you explain how meals work to families during tours, we've created a sample menu with all the nutrition requirements that children need to receive in your program.

Learn the health and safety basics to make sure everyone has a fun food experience:

  1. Always wash hands before and after mealtime (for at least 20 seconds). Clean cooking surfaces, equipment, and utensils thoroughly. 
  2. Make sure to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Cook all food properly, allow to cool before serving, and cut up into bite-size pieces to prevent choking.
  3. Be aware of allergies and make sure the right foods are served to the right child. Store and prepare breast milk and formula properly.
  4. Serve liquids in individual sippy cups and bottles. Make sure to use appropriately sized equipment, like booster seats and high chairs, and ensure that they are secure and that the child is strapped.

3. Learning family talking tips on mixed ages

Take a look at our top talking tips on how best to tell families about the many benefits of mixed ages: 

  1. Continuity of care. Children are able to spend longer periods of time with you. . This allows you to develop a deeper understanding of a child’s strengths and needs, and are therefore in a better position to support the child’s learning. You can also establish a stronger family partnership.
  2. Teaching to the abilities, not the age of the child. Children learn as unique individuals. In mixed-age care, each child is taught according to his or her own strengths, unlike in same-grade classrooms that often expect all children to be at the same place at the same time without regard to their ability.
  3. Learning community. Children develop a sense of community with their friends. They become a "family of learners" who support and care for each other. Mixed-age learning supports a cooperative, caring learning environment. Older kids learn to be patient, nurturing, responsible. 
  4. Role-modeling. Children learn how to set a good example.
  5. Practice social skills. Younger children listen and learn from you and their peer interactions.
  6. Siblings can enroll together. Enough said!

You’re one step closer to running your mixed ages program.

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