What is “Family Grouping”?
Family grouping is the name given in childcare to groups of children of mixed ages, and is so named as its composition more closely resembles that of a family.
In mixed age groups, children can make friends and enjoy experiences at the right level for each individual.
“The idea is neither novel nor rare, and indeed it may be an idea whose time has come, given trends in child rearing and family size, the increasing lengths of time children spend in child care outside of the home, and the increasing academic demands on younger children in pre-schools and kindergartens.” (Katz, 1998).
Research suggests that this model offers significant benefits for children in terms of social and emotional development, language development, physical and intellectual development, less aggression and more nurturing behaviour than the more common grouping children in care by age. Children also have the opportunity to develop positive relationships with each staff member at the centre, and staff and children can relate in different ways depending on the situation and age and stage of the child.
Another benefit of family grouping is that there is no beginning or ending to each year. The evolving nature of family grouping and the continuous booking system that we have in place ensures that our programs operate smoothly all year round.
We firmly believe that the family grouped environment provides an appropriate setting to foster all areas of your child’s development.
The benefits of family grouping to the children are:
- That language development occurs very well in mixed age groups where children act as role models for others with fewer language skills. Toddlers grouped with only babies and other toddlers in child care are exposed to a limited range of language skills. In family groups, the younger child is surrounded with language interactions of various levels and complexity, and as a result, may often develop language skills more rapidly than their peers in age grouped care.
- That social and emotional development occurs appropriately in a family grouped setting. New children settle more easily and feel secure with help from siblings, and older children. The settled children help guide children who are new to the setting to learn what happens during the day, and in the process develop their own self-esteem and self-confidence. They model sharing and turn-taking for new or younger children. A less out-going child can relax and interact more comfortably with younger children.
- That fewer behavioural problems are a common feature of family grouping. Children of varying ages do not have to compete for the same play equipment as their play interests are often very different, and they tend to interact in more positive social ways. Staff who have experienced both same and mixed age groups say toddlers are more apt to display negative behaviours when with other toddlers. This is because they are all asserting their independence and only just learning co-operation skills. In family groups children learn more positive behaviours from a wider age range of children. The safety of babies is sometimes raised as a concern about family grouped settings, yet we believe babies in age group care have more to fear regarding aggression or injury from another baby or toddler, than from an older child.
- That physical and intellectual development is also well provided for in a family grouped setting, since each child is able to play and learn at their own pace. Children learn to accept and respect others’ abilities and can themselves attempt any experience without embarrassment or a sense of failure. Older children are able to model appropriate play and problem solving to younger children while mastering and extending their own development.
“Learning at an early age how to offer comfort, reading to and for those that cannot yet do so, learning how to request assistance from more competent peers, confronting and accepting gracefully the limitations that come from being small and young all occur naturally in a mixed-age group” (Katz, 1998).
However, the benefits are not only for the children. Staff have a more varied and less stressful work day in the family grouped environment. The workload is evened out as the demands from different age groups varies. Staff and children can relate in different ways depending on the situation and age and stage of the child.
As you can see, family grouping has many benefits to the children, their families and the staff, and as this approach is based on the principle of consistency and continuity of care for children, it enables us to provide your child with an environment that they not only can feel safe and secure in, but one which they can develop a sense of belonging.