Grouping children based on age seems logical. Humans like to group things together. We like to gather our fruit into a lovely fruit bowl. We like to hang all our shirts with other shirts, our pants with other pants in our closets. We prefer to call furry creatures “mammals” and slithery scaled creatures “reptiles”. Our brains are built to categorize and organize, and the first and most enduring way we learn to organize this baffling world is to clump all the same things together.
But does this seemingly logical approach to organization work as well for children?
Schools are prime examples of the benefits--and drawbacks—of grouping children. Children are grouped by age into grades. Teachers can then benefit by focusing their skills and talents on a specific range of skills and expectations.
But I would encourage teachers, parents and people in general not to become locked solely into the beautiful logic of grouping.
Early this school year, as part of a school-wide goal to build a true learning community, a fellow teacher and I arranged to have buddy classes between my Kindergarten class and his 5th and 6th grade class.
Somewhere between the fizzy, impulsive energy of my Kindergarteners and the hesitant coolness of the pre-teens, something very special happened.
The 5th and 6th graders began letting their self-protective walls drop. They got down on the floor and played Legos with their Kindergarten buddies. They drew pictures with crayons. They allowed themselves to be led around by the hand, gave in to hugs and read Dr. Seuss stories with their buddies perched in their laps.
And the Kindergarteners? They positively glowed. They reveled in having a whole person all to themselves, someone who, for a little while, would take the time to draw scribbly monsters with them, discuss the merits of green eggs and ham, or sit down and build a Lego masterpiece.
Between each buddy—Kindergartener and 5th or 6th grader—a real friendship has grown. Repeatedly I have seen a Kindergarten student pass by his 5th grade buddy and run up for a hug. More than once I’ve caught a 6th grade buddy offering comfort to a Kindergarten friend sobbing over a scraped knee or bumped head.
What is this magic that can tear down the cool demeanor of an 11 or 12 year old? What kind of wizardry is this that inspires delighted trust, affection and confidence in a 5 or 6 year old?
Friendship. And as cross-age activities show time and time again, friendship knows no age.