Younger and Older Together: Children's Interactions in a Mixed-Age Early Childhood Centre
Since industrialisation, children have increasingly become educated in age-bands to facilitate manageability. The contemporary 21st century Western world further limits mixed-age interaction for young children, yet there is little concern expressed about educational segregation based on age. At the same time, mixed-age settings have been noted to be beneficial for children's learning. This qualitative exploratory study, situated within a socio-cultural framework, considered the nature of children's interactions in one mixed-age Playcentre. Using narrative records that captured the nuances of the social interactions of three focus children, over the course of three Playcentre sessions for each child, the experiences of an 18-month aged girl, a 3-year-3-month old boy and a 4-year-7-month old girl were analysed to explore the qualitative nature of the social interactions that are enabled in a mixed-age early childhood setting. This study supports earlier studies that indicate that age makes a difference to the type of interactions that children engage in. In this study age impacted on the social interaction techniques and strategies that the focus children applied and was also a factor when choosing a peer to engage with. Older children were the ideal child to observe, and to engage with, and this assigned an unspoken leadership role to these older children. Yet, all children were active in their life-world with all being able to contribute to the interactions at the Playcentre, regardless of age. Each of the focus children took responsibility for one another, contributing to the upholding of centre rules and regulations while also respecting each others' needs. I argue that the children's social interactions within this Playcentre created a sense of togetherness within a community; this was the central feature of children's social experiences in this mixed-age setting.