Playing in the Zone of Proximal Development: Qualities of Self‐Directed Age Mixing between Adolescents and Young Children at a Democratic School

The potential educational value of free age mixing between adolescents and younger children has been largely neglected because of the widespread acceptance of the conventional scheme of age-graded schooling. To address this neglect, we analyzed qualitatively a set of field notes that describe nearly two hundred separate vignettes involving interactions between adolescents and younger children at a radically alternative school, the Sudbury Valley School. At an ungraded, democratically structured school, we documented 196 naturally occurring interaction sequences between adolescents (ages 12–19) and children (ages 4–11) who were at least four years younger than the adolescent. Children and adolescents appeared to be drawn together by common interests and play styles, personal attraction, and complementary desires to nurture and be nurtured. Further analyses identified apparent contributions of such interactions to both parties’ physical, intellectual, and social/moral education. Adolescents led children to act within the latter’s zones of proximal development (Vygotsky’s term), and children stimulated adolescents to make implicit knowledge explicit, be creative, and practice nurturance and leadership.


About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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