Mixed age grouping and going “free range”- a big success for Milford Lodge
Milford Lodge, an early childhood education and care (ECEC) service located in Buderim on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, recently switched from a traditional model of children of the same age grouped in rooms, to a “free-range” mixed-aged model.
With over 90 children attending the centre on any given day, it was a bold initiative, but one which has paid dividends, with the centre achieving an Excellent rating from the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA).
One of the primary drivers behind being awarded as Excellent, the Queensland Department of Education noted, was the use of the key educator approach, where children select a key person to be their main source of security for several years.
Speaking with the Department, Milford Lodge Educational Leader Nancy Andrews said the move to mixed-age programming and practice had brought benefits to children and educators, noting that the team began to observe changes quite quickly.
“Straight after we made the move, the nature of the children’s play began to change,” she said, noting that the younger children innately wanted to spend time with older, more competent children and that the older children had a natural desire to help and nurture younger children.
“The children began to act completely differently. There was more sharing and less competition than when the children were separated into age groups.” Ms Andrews also observed changes in the way in which the children acted with and around one another.
“For example, if children of the same age were walking along a low climbing beam, they would push past each other and those who were passed would push back.But when all the children are together, the older child would manoeuvre carefully around the younger child.It was as if they knew the younger one had less developed peripheral vision and special care needed to be taken,” she said.
Before making the transition to mixed-age programming, Milford Lodge educators consulted extensively with families. They documented their conversations to show early childhood regulatory officers during ratings visits.
A number of sibling families expressed their happiness about their children being able to be together in their home room at play and meal times.
For others wanting to make the change, the department reminded services that regulatory officers from the department would want to see evidence of reflective practice among educators to ensure mixed-age programming and practice suited each child’s individual agency and needs, and that staffing considerations had been factored into decision making.
Educator-child ratios in mixed-age practice are calculated according to the youngest child in care. An educator caring for one age group can also be counted against another group as long as ratios and adequate supervision is maintained. Here, the department drew attention to staffing and mixed-age ratios information found on page 430 of ACECQA’s Guide to the National Quality Framework.
More information on mixed age grouping may be found here.