We adults flatter ourselves when we think that we are the best models, guides, and teachers for children. Children are much more interested in other children than in us. Children are especially interested in, and ready to learn from, those others who are a little older than themselves, a little farther along in their development, but not too far along. Children are drawn to older children, and older children are drawn to adolescents. Adulthood is too far off to be of much concern. That is why age-mixing is crucial to children’s self-education.
In my two just-previous posts I focused on the value of age-mixed play. I described how younger children are lifted up in such play to do things that they couldn’t do just with age-mates; and I described how age-mixed play is often more creative, less competitive, and more conducive to experimentation than is same-age play. Now I complete this series on age mixing by describing some ways, beyond play, by which the presence of older and younger children promotes self-education. As before, my examples come mostly from observations at the Sudbury Valley School, where the students, who range in age from 4 through high-school age, mingle freely all day long.