facebook sharing button twitter sharing button instagram sharing button linkedin sharing button

Age grouping of children and a positive slant on how the ratios for two-year-olds can work

By: Jo Caswell and Kate Peach, Founders, Peachwell Early Years Consultancy 

As the revised EYFS framework comes into play, and providers have the choice to operate on a 1-to-5 ratio for two-year-olds, there is much discussion amongst professionals as to whether this is right or not. Many argue an increased ratio compromises on quality. That may well be correct in some situations. We would never condone any form of reduced quality, or suggest any approach that may limit the care and learning experiences offered to children. However, we can speak from personal experience about how the complex needs of two-year-olds can be better met within the sector with some quite radical mindset changes.

Traditionally, many nurseries operate their settings by age grouping children - 0-2s, 2-3s, and 3-4s. This sits perfectly with the requirements of the EYFS statutory framework ratios. But is this suitably meeting the needs of all age groups? We often see the developmental needs of two-year-olds are not always fully understood and catered for. In this typical grouping structure, children of a very narrow, sometimes challenging, developmental stage are grouped together with limited opportunities for them to learn from older, more socially experienced children. This means, often, two-year-olds copy, or are victims to, the typical behavioural traits of biting, hitting or the consequences of limited language and frustration.

As professionals, we often underestimate the abilities of two-year-olds and what they are capable of. They can sometimes be the 'lost' age group - they neither fit the 'babies' nor traditional 'pre-school' age. But, in our experience, when two-year-olds are cared for alongside older children, the progression in their behaviour and development is much quicker. Many providers steer clear of mixed age groupings, considering these too difficult to manage, or complicated to staff in terms of ratios. It is often more cost effective to operate on the traditional groupings already mentioned. But, as we say, this is not always meeting the two-year-olds needs.

In our experience, when two-year-olds are cared for alongside older children, the development of language, social skills, interest, and curiosity is far more rapid. Of course, it takes careful planning and organisation. Risk assessments need to be completed to ensure the learning environment and group activities are safe. You cannot expect two-year-olds to concentrate at the same level of four-year-olds and staff must have realistic expectations. With careful organisation, the benefits, we feel, far outweigh any negatives. Two-year-olds thrive in the company of older friends. They copy their actions and are inspired by their behaviour. Older children learn important skills around social development and being kind and showing empathy towards the needs of younger children.

A mixed age group approach is not as scary and impossible to manage as it may first sound. Firstly, the revised staffing ratio is easier to adopt. We have had feedback from many clients who confirm they can operate easily with the revised ratio without compromising on quality. It just takes careful planning and a workforce who fully understand the developmental needs, and abilities of two-year-olds. This is vital.

Strangely, we do not question how we meet the diverse developmental needs of babies in a typical baby room. Yet, the abilities of babies aged six months to those aged 23 months are vast. However, the sector sometimes has an issue and avoids potentially mixing children aged 35 months with those aged 37 months - a much narrower, easier-to-manage developmental phase.

Is it time to re-think what we traditionally do? We say 'yes'. Give it a go, it works.


Recent comment

Hayley Hone
Great blog. Gave me lots to think about!

Submit your comment