Why is Woodland a Mixed-Age School
Researchers Jay Feldman, Peter Gray and others have observed many benefits to a mixed-age classroom: reduced competition, increased compassion and creativity, and opportunities for leadership and role modeling by older children. It is important to remember also that implicit in the terminology "mixed-age" is mixed-level as well. We use the words "younger" and "older" as generalizations, but various ability levels also add complexity and richness to a mixed-age environment. In families, friendships, and jobs throughout people's lives, we most often interact with people of varying ages and abilities. Therefore, a mixed-age classroom seems the most natural. It only makes sense that we would strive for that kind of environment in our children's school.
In a mixed-age classroom, children are aware of each other's strengths, weaknesses, and talents, yet they are less likely to compare themselves based on age. A seven year-old who is able to decode words but is not yet an avid reader will not feel like she is "behind" in reading because she will be surrounded by children of varying ages who are all in different stages of independent reading. This seven year-old will be given the time and freedom to come to independent reading when she's emotionally and developmentally ready and thus is more likely to be a lifelong reader. Similarly, a student who is very advanced for his/her age will not be bored by time wasted while others "catch up" because each student can work at his/her appropriate level with peers of various ages.
When an older student plays a game of Monopoly with a younger student, he knows that he is likely to win because he has a more developed sense of the game and its strategies. Thus, the older child will often adapt the game to the younger child's level, thereby increasing his sense of compassion and creativity. Older and younger students will often pair up for reading, writing or math activities. The older student does her own work and is available to answer questions from the younger student as needed. Older students enjoy helping, and younger students are empowered to work on their own with the knowledge that help is nearby. We have witnessed tremendous growth in writing and math skills through these pairings.
Further, older students often provide leadership in group activities and offer assistance to younger students in all aspects of life at Woodland, from donning winter outdoor gear to learning how to tell time. The younger students also find opportunities to help out the older students, such as a younger student tying an older students' shoes. This is a great self-esteem builder for the younger students, and the older students feel comfortable accepting help from younger students, which builds deeper human understanding.