Earlier this month Peter Gray wrote an excellent three-part series on why we should stop segregating children by age. He makes excellent arguments — among other things, that segregating children by age removes them from the environments and people from whom they can learn best. What struck us most about the articles, however, was how a successful removal of age segregation would automatically remove one of the hugest barriers for highly asynchronous kids in having their needs met.
A child who reads at a high-school level in kindergarten should never be forced to sit through alphabet lessons and easy readers just because he is five years old. One who excels at science beyond her years should be given access to the appropriate level science classes, even if it requires she be provided with accommodations for her slow writing speed.
Seriously, imagine a world in which children were taught at the level they need to be taught at, regardless of age. Imagine a system so flexible it could permit independent, self-driven learners to learn at their own pace, with access to teachers as facilitators to provide materials and day-to-day guidance, and access to mentors to provide higher-level guidance and inspiration. Imagine an education approach that would let a child have assistive technologies, therapies, and tutors as needed to strengthen weaknesses, so as to rise to his or her full potential, whatever level that might be.
Gray touches on this in his articles, but his main focus is on the power of mixed age-group play and the wonderful role older children can play for younger children in education, but also as helpers and models. We too have seen immense benefit from children of all ages in playing and learning in mixed age groups. Mixed age groups tend to have both a calmer and a more fun-oriented aura, particularly in groups who have spent less time being age-segregated, as with groups of homeschoolers or those whose work (e.g., child actors) or living situation (e.g., those living remotely or traveling long-term with family) prevents them from participating in traditional age-lockstep schools.
Removing the age-lockstep requirements in the school system and focusing on ability grouping would remove some of the entrenched stigma associated with being a younger kid working out of age level, not to mention the same for those working below age level. But perhaps best of all, it would benefit everyone. Mixed age groupings work well, especially when they’re the norm. It’s about time the education system considered a serious revolution.