Welcome to my first blog by request! As I rambled on about this topic, one of my passions, a friend said, “You should blog about that!” And I said, “Wow. That’d be cool.” So here we go.
When S. had only just started learning new things, I learned something new and very important. You see, I noticed that she wanted to crawl, but she didn’t quite have the whole alternating arms and legs concept. So I tried to show her. I got down on the floor and crawled around.
Well, she couldn’t say what she was thinking, but she sure looked at me like I might be an alien, landing right there in her living room. Not long after that, we started going to our library play group (more about that here). There, S. watched the other, slightly older, kids crawl around and got the hang of it in no time.
This brings me back to something I read in a fiction book (Anne McCaffrey’s Damia, if you’re interested): Each one, teach one.
I can’t begin to list how many times I’ve seen that principle work beautifully in my own childhood, so I’m going to stick to my thoughts as a parent. Children of all ages learn best from slightly older children. That’s why Big A. and I have consistently sought multi-age environments for our children.
Why? Well, my theory is that, as baby S. demonstrated, adults are aliens. Of course, they’re important and all that—no question. But can you remember being a kid? Your parents were gross and old and what—like 30-something? Ewwww. You were never going to be that old. But a kindergartner can imagine being in third grade and a fifth grader can relate to a high schooler.
So children aspire to be “big kids.” Eventually they’ll want to be adults, but not for a while yet. Right now, they just want to be like the older kids—the cool kids.
This gets us to the big win-win of multi-age groups. Take S.’s Girl Scout troop. Adults supervise everything, but the older scouts (middle and high school) do the work of helping the younger girls with skills they haven’t developed. For example, when our group of 5-17 year old girls does a craft that requires accurate cutting, it’s a huge blessing. Let’s count the wins there:
- The adults don’t have to help with the scissors…for the thirty-nine millionth time.
- The younger girls get big-eyed and inspired to be like the big girls. They’re on fire to cut “just like so-and-so did!”
- The older girls learn the art of teaching. They slow down, organize and articulate steps, give feedback, respond to their pupils. It’s amazing!
- The younger girls get the benefit of the older girls’ patience and interest (when adults may be frazzled or focused on logistics)
- The older girls get a healthy and genuine esteem boost from successfully teaching a skill. (Showing them the genuine rewards of growing up can counteract some of the superficial markers they see everywhere—defiance, self-destructive behavior, hypersexuality.)
- The older girls also get to step back into a simpler life for a minute. Teens vacillate between adulthood and childhood; this gives them a still-satisfying way to leave behind the pressures of growing up for a bit.
As I said, some of my best experiences as a child came from being taught by—or just playing with—older kids. Some of my most satisfying moments as a teen came from working with younger children. Some of my most successful activities as a camp counselor came from setting up peer-led activities.
As a parent, I’ve seen my children’s biggest, happiest leaps come in a dynamic, healthy group of young people of all ages. In schools, in scouting, and in martial arts, they grow without even realizing it. They think they’re just having fun!
And if you’re interested in some cool additional reading, click these links: