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Mixed-Age Groups

Are you a little confused about how to set up mixed-age groups in your DC4K group? This article will explain the rationale for putting children of different ages together in the same group. It explores examples of what this type of environment will look like and how you can be successful at mixing ages.
by Linda Ranson Jacobs those of you who are thinking about For splitting the groups up by age, please allow me to bring up a few points for you to consider. First, if you have run previous divorce recovery programs for children, I want to ask you to think out of the box for a few minutes. Think about the long-term results. What do you want these kids to take away from DC4K? How do you want DC4K to affect them now and in the future? Even though the materials are written to accommodate mixed-age groups, one of the wonderful things about the way the Lord orchestrated the DC4K curriculum is that each leader has so much freedom in the way the class is structured. You can run it the way that meets the needs of the kids in your group at that time. Because children are so varied in their needs, development and learning, there is not one right way that is going to be the right way all the time. What Is the Purpose of the Age Mix? Kathy from Virginia asked some very interesting questions, What are we trying to cultivate exactly? What are several real-life examples of success in terms of interaction between the ages in a DC4K group? Someone else shared about an older child becoming an almost surrogate parent to younger siblings; the younger siblings would cling to the older child, making it hard for the older child to find healing. This is so very true, but think about this and imagine the success of the older child if the leader gave the older child permission to Not be the surrogate parent while in DC4K. I once had three sisters in my group, and the mother always instructed the older girl, Now you take care of your little sisters and help them. After a couple of weeks, I went to the oldest child and said, Seems to me that you are so busy taking care of your little sisters that you dont have time for yourself. How about if we make a deal? When you walk through those doors, you let me worry about your little sisters. Ill be the adult, and you be the kid for a while. She shared she was worried about what her mother would say about that. I asked permission to go to the mother and share our conversation with her. The child granted me permission to do this. Then I explained to the younger siblings that when they needed something, they were to come to me or another leader and leave their older sister alone when she was with her friends. As long as the little sisters could see their older sister, they were okay. In a situation like that, you might designate some space just for older children. Label a

table for 10 and up at the station times. Allow the older children to have space away from younger ones if you feel they need it. Delays or Jumps in Learning Levels Keep in mind that children of divorce may have emotional, social and intellectual delays. Learning may stop; social development lags; and many revert back to younger years and behaviors. Not every 10-11-12 year old will act their age or be on their developmental level. Some 10-11-12 year olds will act younger and think younger than their age. If you place them in an aged-group, they may not feel comfortable; whereas in a mixed-age group they feel the freedom to migrate to a younger age. Think about the few who get lost in school classrooms and church Bible study groupsthe ones who dont fit. Do we want them uncomfortable at DC4K also? What about the child who has had to become older than his or her years? You may have a little girl who has been working at trying to impress dad and his girlfriends, and she has had to act socially older than she is. It could be that this younger child feels more comfortable sharing with older children. If you place her in the appropriate age groupshe wont feel she fits. Or the younger child who has excelled at schoolwork because he or she thinks it will bring the parent home again. This child is way beyond grade level in reading, comprehension and writing. If you place him or her at grade level, the child wont fit. What about these children? They belong with kids they can relate to and with on their intellectual level. Successful Mixed-Age Groups A real example of success would be where the older kids help the younger children at the workbook station. Another example would be where a younger child puts his or her name on

the Mad face of Herbys poster and an older child approaches, notices and wants to help. One time I overheard this conversation between a 4th grader and a 1st grade child, I know you are really mad about your parents divorce. Know how I know? Because I used to be mad just like you, and know what? I didnt have any friends either. I learned I was mad about my parents getting a divorce. Now I understand, and I learned what to do about it. You will too. It is going to take some time, but youll learn. And the empathy in the eyes of the older child brought a lump to my throat. This kid knew what the young child was feeling. Another example of success would be when an older girl says to a younger girl, I really need to talk to the teacher by myself. Would you wait for me at the other table? When Im done, I will come and get you. This child has been empowered to say how she feels. Keep in mind that not every older child wants to share with a young child, but what about the one who does? Are you going to give that child an opportunity to share what God has done for him or her? Future Positive Outcomes Lets face it, there are going to be older kids who just dont want anything to do with a younger, needy little kid. Look at this as a teaching time. How can you help this child develop empathy and understanding? Because more than likely, at some point in this childs life, one or both parents are going to remarry. This child may find him or herself in a step/blended family. This child may become the younger child or the oldest of the children. How will the children cope if they havent been taught? This is one way DC4K can affect a childs future long-term.

Sharing Stories/Concerns with Others Some children will not want to talk in a groupperiod. No matter if its kids their own age or a mixed group. Many DC4K leaders share in our regional trainings that the time the kids are sharing is when they sit down to eat, color or work on a project. It is really all about building relationships with some of these kids. Another leader shared that in their first session she was ushering the kids into the stations after the story, and this older kid piped up, Hey when am I going to get to tell my story about divorce? He was expecting to be allowed to talk during the group and on the first night! This leader said she never dreamed an older boy would want to divulge his story on the first night and to the entire group, including the younger children. Then, following his example, another older boy wanted to tell his story and then the youngest boy, at five years old, asked if he could please tell his story too. Think Outside the Box There are so many variables with each child. Assess your individual group, but be careful about placing children in categories or boxes where you think they fit. Most 4 year olds dont belong in DC4K because they are still developmentally unaware of group dynamics. Some 5 year olds dont belong either. Twelve and 13 year olds are hard to evaluate because some have moved into their teen years already. For the most part, 14 year olds dont belong in DC4K unless they are assisting. One leader recently shared that for the story time he has an older, grandmother-type person who takes the two 5-year-old children out of the group and tells them the story, and they talk about the story while the rest of the group stays together. This works for their group. Another leader said she gives the younger age children pencil and paper to

draw and color on while the story is read. They listen, but from a table, while the other children sit together. This works for her group. If as a leader you just dont feel comfortable putting ages together, then do what you feel comfortable with. If you are tense and nervous, the kids will pick up on it. They will not feel safe nor will they feel comforted. If you want to try mixed-age grouping, but you are still not sure, then start out with a small group and you can grow later after you feel comfortable. It is true that there are going to be challenges with mixed-age groups, but I believe the longterm outcomes will outweigh the challenges.

MMV by the author and/or Church Initiative. All rights reserved. Reproducible only when used with a Church Initiative ministry program. Linda Ranson Jacobs is the DC4K creator and developer. For more information, email info@dc4k.org. To discover more about DivorceCare for Kids or to find a DC4K group near you, go to www.dc4k.org.