Multi-age daycare refers to centre-based programs where a variety of children of different ages are placed together in a caring environment. The children spend their day together under the guidance of a highly trained practitioner and are encouraged to learn and play together. This differs from the traditional child-care model, where children are grouped according to their age range.
There are many benefits to Multi-age Daycare and it is increasingly practiced across Canada. Children are afforded the ability to interact with others of all ages, as they might in their family home. These groupings benefit both older and younger children by encouraging positive social behaviours and cognitive development. Older children learn empathy, patience and nurturing behaviours, while younger children are able to observe and emulate their older peers. In addition, siblings are able join the same grouping and grow together, as they would at home. This, in turn, provides more continuity for children and minimizes the need for potentially stressful transitions as the child ages.
In a multi-age daycare, younger children can participate and contribute to far more complex activities than they could initiate by themselves. For example, once an older child sets up an activity, the younger ones can participate, even if they could not have initiated it. Research also indicates that multi-age groups can provide a therapeutic environment for children to mature socially. Younger children are less likely to exclude an older child who may be shy or socially delayed in their development. This creates a safe environment in which children can reach social maturity without the stress of peer-related ridicule.
In this way, multi-age daycare offers an educationally rich environment, which requires highly educated and dedicated staff in order for it to be effective. Practitioners must understand the needs of children at each stage of their development, while encouraging them to challenge themselves and support others. Under the guidance of a skilled practitioner, A multi-age daycare can provide a context to teach children not only to appreciate a previous level of understanding or behaviour they themselves recently experienced, but also to appreciate their personal progress and the development of others.