Stories of mixed age childcare

One of the hallmarks of LifeWays Child Care is the family-style approach. By caring for children in small groups of varying ages, the child's daily experience is much more natural and home-like than the institutionalized and program-oriented care that is prevalent today. Through the inspiration of Steiner's research in child development and current research on brain development and the importance of bonding, we recognize that this model of care supports the healthy development of the child.

Read two anecdotal stories from former students in the LifeWays Child Care and Human Development training in Wisconsin.

From Ursula Wald of Tucson, Arizona

Ursula cared for a three-year old girl who had recently been expressing occasional aggressive behavior. She had taken to beating up the dolls and saying she was going to smash the babies (dolls). Occasionally she was striking out at the other children seemingly unprovoked. Things were changing in her family which could have played a role in her behavior. When Ursula added an infant to her childcare group, she noted that all of the children changed in their behavior. They all, including the three-year old girl, loved the baby. Specifically, she noted that when this little girl arrived she immediately went to the baby dolls, gathered them all up, and began to wrap them and care for them.

From Mary O’Connell in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (Mary’s home program before she opened  her centers)

It’s Wednesday, and in my home day care that means it’s the day with the “twos”; not by design, mind you, but the way the schedule just happened to work out, I have all two-year-olds this day.

Monroe, 2 ½, spends his day as the child development textbooks will tell you. He enjoys being with the other toddlers, but he engages mostly in “parallel play”, looking to the caregiver for ideas and inspiration. He has trouble sharing toys, and there is a bit of intervention required by the caregiver to make sure everyone is taking turns. His speech is emerging, but he doesn’t talk very much with the other twos; mostly just 3 or 4 word sentences to the adult.

Circle time consists of caregiver singing, and Monroe and the other children mostly watching, imitating a few gestures and contributing a word here or there.

It’s Friday, and Monroe is here again, but this day with a mixed group of ages, from infant to 5 years old. Monroe enters the house with a grin from ear to ear and approaches James, age 3. “Hi, James! Want to play cars? Mary get out the cars? I be fire truck, you be dump truck, okay James?”

Monroe’s day continues with the exuberant chattering, true imaginative play (inspired by the older playmates), eagerly sharing toys with the baby, and fully engaging in circle time. His whole demeanor has changed! He is confident, interactive, playful and so proud of himself.

I often think of this contrast between “2-year-old room” and “mixed-age family-style” care and feel so sorry for the children in traditional childcare who never get to experience this natural blending of ages, which allows them to learn from the older children and care for the younger ones. If only every caregiver could experience the joy of watching children grow in a multi-age environment!