What are the pros and cons of a mixed economy

Advantages and disadvantages of a wide mix of ages in day-care centers

From: Klaus Schüttler-Janikulla (Ed.): Handbook for educators in crèches, kindergartens, preschools and after-school care centers. Reissue. Munich: mvg-verlag 1997, 21st delivery

Martin R. Textor

In recent years, more and more day-care centers have introduced forms of a wide mix of ages. On the one hand, some kindergarten groups have opened up for individual two-year-olds or continue to look after one or more children even though they have already started school. On the other hand, some day care centers have introduced the so-called "small" age mix by accepting children from infancy to school enrollment and others have introduced the "large" age mix by accepting children from infancy or toddler age up to their 10th or 12th year of age. The following is only about the "small" and the "large" age mix - their advantages and disadvantages. Both field reports and scientific research results are available for this purpose.

Experience with the wide mix of ages

The present field reports [I am mainly referring to: Erath (1991, 1992); Haberkorn (1994); Gründel (1995); Klein / Vogt (1995); Krappmann / Peukert (1995); Maar (1984); Merker / Schlüter-Kröll (1991); Metzinger (1996); Ministry of Culture, Youth, Family and Women of the State of Rhineland-Palatinate (1994); Petersen (1988/89); Schäfer (1993); Social pedagogical training center Haus am Rupenhorn / The Senator for Education, Youth and Sport Berlin (1993); Thiersch (1995); Will (1991)] were mostly written by proven representatives of a wide mix of ages. So positive statements predominate. However, if you read it carefully, you will also notice negative statements. The advantages and disadvantages of a wide age mix mentioned in the experience reports relate to the children being looked after, the specialists, the parents and the general conditions. They should now be presented in this order. The form of the tabular comparison is selected.


Advantages / opportunities

Disadvantages / dangers


Age mix corresponds to life: only rarely age-homogeneous groups

fewer transfers / changes of facilities; more continuity

Siblings can visit an institution together

More complex framework conditions: higher staffing requirements, more differentiated room design, higher demands on staff, more advice and further training necessary


Children have constant caregivers over the years

older children are behavior models for younger ones

Children who are lagging behind do not become outsiders

Long-term friendships among children are possible

more cooperation instead of competition; less conflicts; less fighting over the same toys

younger children learn models of conflict resolution from older ones

older children are considerate and helpful towards younger ones, offer comfort and emotional support, learn empathy

Only children in particular can find "replacement" siblings in the group

Better independence development in younger children due to model learning and development incentives from older children

low fluctuation conveys more security and security

The presence of older children gives toddlers security in the absence / change of staff

Younger children benefit from interactions with older ones, as they better adapt their language style to their receptivity

younger children learn from older ones: more stimulation and developmental incentives

older children learn through teaching and tutoring; they secure their knowledge through transmission and repetition

less pressure to perform as there is less competition from peers

more intensive school support, as only a few school children are cared for

with a "bad" teacher, children are subject to her "negative" influence for many years

Children who are experienced by one teacher as unsympathetic, scapegoated or ignored have little chance of having a better experience with another teacher

older children are not just "positive" behavior models

with a wide age range, children with developmental delays are less noticeable (less help)

only a few children are available for "typical" friendships (similar to old children)

less group cohesion / solidarity as there are too many different needs / interests

Children remain in certain unique roles for a long time (e.g. "baby boy", the oldest, the assistant to the kindergarten teacher)

older children can continually play to their superiority, strength and power

older children are often disturbed in their activities and may then react negatively and aggressively

very young children can become isolated due to their lack of social, language, and play skills

Children under the age of 6 are not prepared enough for the competitive situation with many of their peers at school

Children under three years of age can be unsettled by the large group or perish in it (no feeling of security)

language development is not as good as there is less educator-child interactions and guided, planned, structured group activities

cognitive development is less encouraged because there are fewer teacher-child interactions, fewer planned and structured learning activities and less work according to a weekly plan or according to formulated learning goals

older children are cognitively under-stimulated and easily under-challenged, younger children tend to be overwhelmed

for older children there are fewer / no playmates in the group to learn from or to compete with

Since only one or two children are about to start school, they are less prepared for school


can handle children of all ages

gain extensive knowledge of developmental psychology

know children better because they are in the facility longer

more varied, more interesting, more varied work due to the wide age range

wide range of activities, occupations, games and materials can be used; the educator offers the children a wide range of ideas and experiences

holistic education based on the coexistence of people of different ages

individual children can be better supported because the group is small in the mornings and late afternoons; more customization

more work in small and project groups

more continuity in work because the children are in the group longer

Easier integration / care for new children, as only a few are admitted each year

fewer nursing activities than nursery teachers, as there are only a few small children in the group

intensive cooperation is necessary in order to plan educational work with children of different ages and to coordinate individual offers / activities

Planning is intellectually stimulating

great flexibility required

More opening up of the day-care center and the family due to the long period of cooperation

Kindergarten teachers have more knowledge of the family situation of the children

more influence on the upbringing of the family due to the longer and more intimate contact

Long-term educational partnership: educators and parents have to deal with the needs, expectations and wishes of the other side

constant parental work possible over a long period of time

new families and those with special needs can be integrated faster or better

Danger of concentrating on a certain age group (e.g. on smaller children, as they require a lot of attention and attention; e.g. on older children, since working with them is more interesting)

Successful work requires broad developmental and educational knowledge that is not imparted in training and further education

Less job satisfaction: educators feel that they are not doing justice to all children and need advice more often

Difficult work with the whole group due to very different skills, interests, etc.

in activities and projects it is very difficult to do justice to all children; often disturbance from smaller children (inattentiveness, not mastering everyday routines)

Risk of underburdening older children and overtaxing younger children

the need to provide material suitable for each age group means less choice for the individual child

Individualization and work in small groups cost a lot of time (inefficiently) and all in all mean less interaction between the teacher and the individual child, less teaching and less structured activities

very complex planning when age-homogeneous groups are formed for occupations / activities

high expenditure of time for planning, coordination, preparation and follow-up

Risk of unclear educational goals and, as a result, poor planning

If the educator does not see a focus of her work in the work of the parents, educational partnership, mutual opening, influencing of family upbringing etc. are not / hardly realized over the entire duration of the child's stay in the facility

if the educator is not active in child abuse, sexual abuse, parenting errors, etc., the child receives no help for years (with "classic" childcare, the child changes facilities after two or three years: the new educator may then become active)

the educator has to deal with "problematic" parents (e.g. cross-drivers) for up to 10 years


Due to the long stay of the child, it seems to parents that it makes more sense to become involved in / for the facility: more cooperation, more involvement of their own skills

Parents have longer contact with each other, know each other better, are more interested in common (leisure) activities, family self-help, etc.

More open exchange of conversations and experiences, more intensive feeling of togetherness due to long contacts and low fluctuation

do not have to look for a separate care arrangement for each child

Parents who have very young children or school children looked after by someone else often have little / no time for activities in the context of parental work (because they are fully employed, single parents, etc.); no commitment

Scientific research results

So far there have only been very few empirical studies on the wide mix of ages in Germany. One of them was carried out on behalf of the Ministry for Culture, Youth, Family and Women of the State of Rhineland-Palatinate (1994) and referred to ten "houses for children" with a "large" mix of ages. The 67 educational professionals surveyed reported greater satisfaction with their work, which was experienced as more strenuous, but also more varied and stimulating than work in standard institutions. Educational offers (e.g. according to a framework plan) took a back seat to nursing and supervising activities. Much differentiation was also necessary; only rarely were all the children together. The six-year-olds experienced less "kindergarten fatigue" when school children were in the group. However, they were increasingly looking for age-matched partnerships and no longer wanted to pursue their age-appropriate interests exclusively in the "house for children". A surprising result was that around a third of all 101 children in care were deregistered during the model phase. The main reasons given were a reduction in the need for care or a move.

Another German study referred to the Sebastianstrasse children's home in Ingolstadt (Erath 1994), in which there are four groups with a "small" mix of ages. Almost all of the parents surveyed were of the opinion that their children would have settled in without any problems in the facility, would feel completely at ease there, would like to go to the facility, are happy there and receive sufficient support. Almost all of them saw the age mix as positive. Of the 29 school beginners, all of them achieved school readiness according to the Reutlingen test for school beginners. It was also found that the kindergarten teachers were more withdrawn and less oriented towards pre-school criteria.

The third German study referred to four institutions with a "large" age mix (190 children) and eight cooperative institutions with a normal age mix in crèche, kindergarten and after-school care (Minsel 1996). Here, the interactions between the children were examined by the educators observing the children for a week at a maximum of 22 measurement times and assessing the frequency of the interactions between two children at the end of the week. If the age mix is ​​wide, "about half of the investigated cases can be observed that the children who are on the edge of the age distribution have significantly less contact than the children who are in the middle of the age distribution. Due to the broad age mix and at the same time the small ones Group size, the oldest children only have the opportunity to play with more or less younger ones (conversely, the youngest only with more or less older ones), whereas the middle-aged children can look for both older and younger children "(p. 27 f.) ( In the comparison group (standard facilities), the oldest children had more contacts than the younger ones). At the same time, more interactions between boys and girls were found than in regular institutions, which was explained by the lack of same-age and same-sex children in the group (in general, boys were more likely to play with boys, girls more likely to play with girls). The school children were also asked about their three best friends. Most of them were of the same age and called same-sex children. In addition, the educational specialists were asked about their experiences with the wide mix of ages. Most of them were of the opinion that younger children acquire more vocabulary, that school entry would be easier and that older children would be more considerate with younger ones than in regular institutions. In general, more benefits were seen for the younger children. Most of the teachers reported positive experiences, but also reported that working with the whole group was more difficult.

Since in most countries outside Germany an age mix of three years - as in kindergarten - is unusual and age groups predominate in external care, hardly any research results are available from abroad. Sweden is an exception, where the "small" age mix is ​​widespread: in 1991 around 43% of toddlers were cared for in groups of one to six year olds (Sundell 1994b). The decisive factor for this development were positive research results from the second half of the 1970s, which demonstrated the advantages of a wide mix of ages for children's social development. In the 1980s, however, many of the professionals working in such groups criticized this practice, in particular the large amount of time required for the youngest children and the difficulty of providing educational opportunities for the mixed-age group. Towards the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, this led to new and qualitatively better studies, which led to rather negative results. In Sweden, for example, age groups are increasingly being looked after separately again (Pramling in press).

For example, Sundell (1994a) compared 179 children in 14 day-care centers with different age mixes on the basis of test results. He found that with a larger age range in the group (one to six year olds), the children had both poorer language and cognitive development. This was attributed to the difficulty of the skilled workers in doing justice to children of so different ages and with so different intellectual abilities, to educate them appropriately and to support them with clear goals. The social-emotional development of the children was not influenced by differences in the age mix - that is, not improved by the "small" age mix.

In another study by Sundell, professionals in 424 preschool settings were asked about their experience of age mix (summarized in Sundell 1994b). They said that children - especially the older ones in the group - would develop worse the greater the age range between the youngest and oldest child. According to a Swedish study by Broberg and colleagues (1989), the personality and social development of children with a wider age mix was less positive. Other empirical studies (summarized by Pramling in Druck and by Sundell 1994b) showed that the professionals in groups with a small age mix were less satisfied with their work. In particular, they had the feeling that they were not doing justice to all children, that they were not being given enough support and that they had to break off educational offers too often because small children were a problem. They found it difficult to adapt their activities to the wide age range and required a lot of preparation time, which could have been spent with the children instead.They also went to psychologists more often than the average because of these problems.

Closing word

The Swedish research results in particular make it clear that many of the disadvantages of a wide age mix mentioned in the table above are absolutely real. The very positive experience reports prevalent in the German-language specialist literature should therefore be viewed with a good deal of skepticism. Not only are the professionals working in institutions with a wide mix of ages "pioneers" with the appropriate motivation and enthusiasm, but the framework conditions are often above average - for example, the group often only consists of 15 children (with schoolchildren in the case of a "large" mix of ages only on Afternoon), there are often more than two specialists per group. Probably also kindergarten teachers would be happier under such working conditions and would have the impression of having more effect on the children.

It becomes clear that more scientific research should urgently be carried out on the wide mix of ages. In particular, it is necessary to compare the development of children in groups with different ages. The age groups customary in other countries should also be included. They too should have advantages, because otherwise they would not be the rule in other European and non-European countries.


Broberg, A./Hwang, P./Lamb, M.E./Ketterlinus, R.D .: Child care effects on socioemotional and intellectual competence in Swedish preschoolers. In: Lande, J.S./Scarr, S./Gunzenhauser, N. (eds.): Caring for children: challenge to America. Hillsdale: Erlbaum 1989, pp. 49-75

Erath, P .: Children in a mixed-age group in the Sebastianstraße children's home. KiTa Bay 1991, pp. 91-93

Erath, P .: Farewell to the day nursery. A plea for mixed-age groups in day care centers for children. Freiburg: Lambertus 1992

Erath, P .: Final report on the research project "Testing pedagogical methods in day care for children of preschool age in mixed-age groups (0-6) with special consideration of the requirements of the framework plans (Art. 4, 7 BayKig and 4. DVBayKIG)" in the children's home Sebastianstraße of Bürgerhilfe Ingolstadt eV 1992-1994. Manuscript. Eichstätt: Catholic University of Eichstätt 1994

Haberkorn, R .: Mixed-age groups. A form of organization with many opportunities and the call for new answers. In: German Youth Institute (ed.): Places for children. Looking for new ways in childcare. Munich: DJI Verlag Deutsches Jugendinstitut 1994, pp. 129-148

Gründel, S .: The model of a mixed-age group of children. A special form of child day care. Our children 1995, 50 (1), pp. 14-15

Klein, L./Vogt, H .: Life in the family group. A practical book about the large mix of ages. Freiburg: Lambertus 1995

Krappmann, L./Peukert, U. (ed.): Mixed-age groups in day-care centers. Reflections and practical reports on a new form of care. Freiburg: Lambertus 1995

Maar, G .: Living together in mixed-age groups. Day care for children from 0-6 years in North Rhine-Westphalia. Our youth 1984, 36, pp. 479-490

Merker, H./Schlüter-Kröll, K .: Mixed-age groups (0.4-6 years) in day care facilities - development opportunities for children. Christ und Bildung 1991, 37, pp. 343-345

Metzinger, A .: The socio-educational model "children's home". KIGA magazine '96, pp. 106-108

Ministry of Culture, Youth, Family and Women of the State of Rhineland-Palatinate (ed.): "House for Children". Final report. Mainz: self-published in 1994

Minsel, B .: Model experiment on the further development of day-care centers for children. Final report. Manuscript. Munich: State Institute for Early Education, July 1996

Petersen, G .: It all depends on the mix. Childhood 1988/89, 1, pp. 13-17

Pramling, I .: The quality of childcare from a Swedish perspective. In: Fthenakis, W.E./Textor, M.R. (Ed.): Quality of child care: concepts, research results, international perspectives. Weinheim: Beltz, in press (published 1998, pp. 219-230)

Schäfer, M .: Many roads lead to the goal. The conversion of regular facilities to children's community groups. Kindergarten heute 1993, 23 (5), pp. 26-36

Social pedagogical training center Haus am Rupenhorn / The Senator for Schools, Youth and Sport Berlin: Age mix - materials and suggestions for work in the day care center. In: Ministry for Education, Youth and Sport of the State of Brandenburg (ed.): Kita Debatte, focus on age mix. Potsdam: Self-published 1993, pp. 42-45

Sundell, K .: Instructional style, age span in child groups and speech, cognitive and socioemotional status. In: Laevers, F. (ed.): Defining and assessing quality in early childhood education. Leuven: Leuven University Press 1994a, pp. 27-37

Sundell, K .: Mixed-age groups in Swedish nursery and compulsory schools. Manuscript. Stockholm: Stockholm Social Welfare Administration, Bureau for Research and Development 1994b

Thiersch, R .: Mixed ages. Klein & Groß 1995, 48 (1), pp. 16-19

Will, R .: Mixed Age Groups - A New Way in Education? Christ und Bildung 1991, 37, pp. 345-347

Addendum to the research results on age mix (2009)

In the context of research for a book contribution (Textor 2009) I came across some recent research results on the age mix, which will be briefly referred to below.

In Germany, Wüstenberg and Riemann (2008) examined 870 play constellations in groups of one to six year old children. They found that 49% of the time children played alone. This was especially true of younger children. At least two children were involved in 51% of the play constellations. Older children were overrepresented here.

In contrast to other studies, the researchers found that the game constellations (64% to 36%) were more often of mixed ages than of the same age. "However, the differentiated analysis shows a tendency towards more age match Play partnerships if five children were available in the age group studied. This was true for all age groups, but particularly clearly for five and six year old children "(p. 28). However, since groups with one to six year old children are usually relatively small (approx. 15 children), this situation only occurs That is why, according to Wüstenberg and Riemann (loc. cit.), two groups should cooperate with each other so that enough people of the same age are available for the social game during joint activities or free play.

Also interesting is the research result that the quality of the game was different in age-matched and mixed-age groups: "In age match 83% of the children played game constellations in dyads, i.e. in pairs, and mostly gender-homogeneous. These game partnerships were often continued in the same formation. That means, a couple of children developed their games over several days, which we consider to be significant development potential from the point of view of co-construction "

(Wüstenberg and Riemann 2008, p. 39). In addition, other children repeatedly took part in the dyad game for a short time. "In distant from age Playgroups (age difference from 18 months) the children played predominantly in constellations of three and often in large playgroups with four, five or even more children. In 20% of the age-remote play partnerships, even girls and boys in an age range of 1-6 years have teamed up. These playgroups were ad hoc groups, showed that the children were particularly good at organizing one another and were very willing to integrate the youngest. But they did not repeat themselves ... "(Wüstenberg and Riemann 2008, p. 39).

Similar research results were presented in an English-language dissertation. Here Archer (2007) found that in groups of three years the four- and five-year-old boys and girls as well as the three-year-old boys preferred to play with children of the same sex. The three-year-olds played most often with other three-year-olds, while four- and five-year-olds often played together.

Bailey, Burchinal and McWilliam (1993), on the other hand, were more interested in the development of children between the ages of 21 months and six years in mixed-age and homogeneous groups. They examined the children with developmental psychological tests and found that in mixed-age groups in children aged 22 to 57 months a rapid increase in the number of points and then a flattening was observed, while in children of the same age group in age-homogeneous groups a more linear increase was observed the score occurred. The study by Winsler et al. (2002), which only looked at three and four-year-olds, showed that the differences in development between the two cohorts were greater in the age separation, while in the age mix the three-year-olds were more like the four-year-olds and the four-year-olds more like the three-year-olds .

The younger children initially benefited from the mix of ages. However, their lead over children in age-matched groups could not be maintained - perhaps because the older children received less support, because the specialists concentrated on the younger children with their greater care needs, or because the older children had demanding activities and discussions about topics of interest or often unable to continue complex games due to the interruption by younger children and thus not be able to fully utilize their learning potential (Bailey, Burchinal and McWilliam 1993).

The research results presented in the addendum confirm many of the statements made in the main article. Children seem to prefer relationships with their peers (preferably of the same gender) over relationships with younger or older children. With regard to their development, younger children are more likely to benefit from mixed-age groups, while older children are more likely to be disadvantaged.


Archer, Lizbeth Ann: Social Strategies Among Preschoolers in a Mixed-Age Setting. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering 2007, 68 (3-B), p. 1958

Bailey, D.B./Burchinal, M.R./McWilliam, R.A .: Age of Peers and Early Childhood Development. Child Development 1993, 64, pp. 848-862

Textor, M.R .: Forms of day-care facilities: opportunities and risks of age mix. In: Münch, M.-T./Textor, M.R. (Ed.): Day care for children under the age of three between expansion and educational mandate. Berlin: Self-published by the German Association for Public and Private Welfare 2009, pp. 107-120

Winsler, Adam / Caverly, Sarah L./Willson-Quayle, Angela / Carlton, Martha P./Howell, Christina / Long, Grace N .: The Social and Behavioral Ecology of Mixed-Age and Same-Age Preschool Classrooms: A Natural Experiment. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 2002, 23 (3), pp. 305-330

Wüstenberg, W./Riemann, I .: Play contacts in the mixed-age group. Selected results of an empirical study, TPS - Theory and Practice of Social Pedagogy 2008, Issue 7, pp. 38-39


Dr. Martin R. Textor studied education, counseling and social work at the Universities of Würzburg, Albany, N.Y., and Cape Town. He worked for 20 years as a research assistant at the State Institute for Early Education in Munich. From 2006 to 2018 he and his wife headed the Institute for Education and Future Research (IPZF) in Würzburg. He is the author or editor of 45 books and has published 770 specialist articles in magazines and on the Internet.
Homepage: https://www.ipzf.de
Autobiography at http://www.martin-textor.de