In my last post I mentioned that usually it is the school age children that have the most difficulty with free play time. This was a generalized comment and the problem is in part due to the mixed age group setting.
In Manitoba a licensed family childcare home can have a maximum of eight children and no more than five of those children may be under 6 years old – three of the eight must be school-age.
In my opinion some of the greatest benefits of a mixed age group are the opportunity for the childcare provider to build a relationship with the child as they develop and for the child to experience playing and working with children at various developmental levels. When a child is enrolled in a family childcare home as an infant they may be able to stay with that same caregiver throughout their preschool years and even as they begin school.
I say ‘may’ because the province has set a higher daily rate for infants (children under 2 years of age) than for preschoolers (2-5 years old) and some providers will choose the money over the child and not keep a child in an infant space after they turn two. This is a practice that I find upsetting but I understand that some providers simply cannot accept the drop in income which can be as much as $600/month. The bond between child and caregiver is so very important and I will always choose to keep child as long as possible even if it results in a loss of income. I would like to see infant and preschool rates equalized but that is another rant so let me get back to the topic of those school-age children.
Due to the fact that care for preschool children is harder to find, parents often have to look for childcare outside the area that they live in. Therefore when the child starts school they may need to leave their current childcare setting in order for the child to attend the appropriate school. When this happens there is no currently enrolled preschool child to move into a vacant school-age space. Many family childcare providers have difficulty filling these school-age spaces and some choose to focus on preschool care and leave their school-age spaces empty.
So, the most likely time for me to enrol a new child in my childcare home is when they are an infant or when they are school-age. For all of us there is an adjustment period while we get to know each other but infants are more adaptable so this adjustment period is usually shorter. If a school-age child was here as an infant or preschooler our relationship is already well established and although we may have our ups and downs we’re ‘family’ and we work through it. Those ‘new’ school-age children are the hardest particularly if they have little experience in a setting with younger children.
In a family childcare home with eight children there are rarely more than three school age children. Three is a pretty small group when you’re used to interacting in a larger group in a classroom or childcare centre. Three is an even smaller group when you consider ‘school age’ can be anywhere from 6 years old to 12 years old or more and you may not have much in common. Add to that the restrictions because you have to consider that there are babies and toddlers watching everything you do and it is almost unbearable.
Sometimes they resent being placed in a setting ‘with little kids’ – after all, they are growing up and it may feel like a punishment to be in a group with babies. Sometimes they want to help look after the younger ones but it often comes across as ‘bossy’ – at least that’s how the younger ones view it because they have been here longer and already ‘know everything’. One of the hardest lessons for the older children can be learning the difference between ‘helping’ someone who needs assistance and ‘interfering’ when someone is trying to be independent. Many conflicts can arise in these situations.
You know who often does really well in this mixed age setting? — The school age child that doesn’t ‘fit’ with a large group of peers. The one that is insecure – unsure if their abilities will measure up to those of others their age – who suddenly realize they have so much to offer as a mentor to the younger children. Or the one that has been labelled as a ‘troublemaker’ at school because they feel they need to be ‘bad’ to be noticed – here they may be revered by the younger children and can be given extra responsibilities – something usually reserved for the ‘best’ children in a large classroom.
Here, eventually the school age children will stop lamenting that there is no exciting entertainment; no elaborate activities set up to amuse and enlighten them; too many things they can’t do because there are little children around. If they are ‘bored’ long enough they will discover that there are plenty of opportunities for them to demonstrate leadership, to make decisions, to offer advice, to show initiative and to be responsible – plenty of opportunities to grow up.