One of the things I love about working with preschoolers is that I get to teach in a multi-age classroom with children from two and a half to five years old. I believe strongly that students of all ages benefit from working side by side with both older and younger peers. I think that Bixby does a great job of connecting their students, Pre-K thru 5th, in both social and academic ways that are fun but also quite powerful. Within the preschool, we have a lot of opportunities to give our younger students chances to learn alongside their older friends, and vice-versa. Many times these situations arise naturally thru play; an older student helping a young child across the bridge at the pirate ship, a young, exuberant two-year-old bringing out a more playful side of a rather precocious four-year-old. While other times we are more deliberate in pairing older and younger students together. On a recent outing to Bridgewalk Pond, Alison’s group of three-year-olds helped Megan’s group of two-year-olds to make sure no one got lost (Allison and Megan were also on hand), teachers will sometimes assign buddies to help students walk up from swim and other similar scenarios.
But the relationships across age groups span far beyond the preschool walls at Bixby. We have weekly visits from our fourth grade buddies who come and spend time playing games and doing projects with the preschoolers. Many of these older students enjoy the experience so much that they return voluntarily during their free time to come and read stories with the students. Recently, the kindergarteners invited the older preschoolers over to their classroom to give them an orientation of what kindergarten will be like. Students explored activities together, shared stories, and answered questions. In the evenings, some of the elementary students in aftercare enjoy coming over to visit preschool to read original stories to the students or just play together with some younger friends.
I can imagine the worry that some parents might feel, “Aren’t the younger ones holding my child back? How is he being challenged if he’s spending so much time with younger students?” But at least from my experience, I believe that just as the younger students gain support, academic scaffolding, and emotional encouragement from the relationship, older students benefit strongly as well. Most notably, the interaction forces older students to slow down which requires a lot of patience. This might mean reading at a slower pace, or stopping long enough for a young friend to gather and express her thoughts. Regarding academic content, any teacher will tell you that the best way to learn something is to teach it. Having older students slow down to work with younger students on developing skills doesn’t hinder their skills, but rather reinforces and strengthens them.
But in my mind, the best result of these connections is a strong sense of school community across all the grades. The best reflection of this is shown at any school musical production or weekly assembly. With high-fives, laughter, and smiles, the connection among the students is palpable and makes a meaningful impact on the environment where they come to learn every day. It certainly makes it enjoyable to teach here!