Family Grouping is the name given in a care setting to groups of mixed ages and is so named as this system more closely resembles that of a family than the more popular choice of grouping children in care by age. An important feature of family grouping is the understanding that everyday routines, experiences and activities are not only possible but can be beneficial for children and more interesting for the staff in a family group setting.
An environment that is responsive to the interests and abilities of each child and caters for different learning capacities most effectively supports the way children learn and develop.
Therefore we believe that the Family Grouping structure provides the most appropriate environment to support all areas of a child’s early learning and development and have developed flexible playrooms to accomodate children of mixed ages and abilities.
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 confident child can relax and interact more comfortably with younger children.
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. There is less aggression and more nurturing of others. Practitioners 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 grouping, 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.
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.
Language development occurs naturally 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 an education and care setting 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 group care.
However the benefits are not only for the children……
Practitioners have a more varied 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 every child with an environment that they not only can feel safe and secure in, but one which they can develop a sense of belonging.