Mixing ages in an educational context

My name is Eleonora Teszenyi and I have worked for the Early Years team at the University of Northampton for seven years now. I come from an ‘education’ background: prior to becoming a lecturer I worked as a nursery practitioner, a Local Authority Early Years Advisor, a classroom teacher for Year Reception to Year 2 children and a Children Centre Teacher in the most disadvantaged areas of Leicestershire.

As my surname suggests I am not of English origin – I come from Hungary where my educational experiences from kindergarten to university were quite different from what is provided for children and young people here in England.  Drawing on my Hungarian links and heritage, each year I take a group of students studying on our Early Years courses to Hungary to visit their provision for young children and to explore their curriculum framework. During my first visit to an inner-city kindergarten I noticed that children were organised into mixed-age groups (3-6 years), unlike me who spent three years in a kindergarten group with same-age children. I became curious about this ‘alternative’ organisation of children and started to look into it in greater depth, first for my Masters dissertation, then for my PhD.

If you think about it: Children in all cultures and communities learn from one another through relationships with a variety of ages and they always have. This is our evolutionary past. The age-segregated model of today’s education does not reflect family life and it makes it rather difficult for children in schools (or even before) to play in multi-age contexts. This factory model of batch processing, as Robinson and Gerver (2010) call it, denies access to other age children and the valuable opportunities mixed-age learning would offer.

By saying ‘valuable’ I am making the assumption that mixing ages in an educational context is beneficial. I cannot be sure, however, and this is my mission: to find out. As part of my PhD research I am examining the nature of mixed-age practice in Hungarian kindergartens and I am hoping to discuss its key components and highlight their relevance in a European or even English context. So look out for publications from me – I am hoping to write as I go along with the research.

Eleonora Teszenyi, Senior Lecturer in Education (Early Years)