A Lesson At Dinner
I was at a dinner the other night with a group of families. The children swung around us at the table, interrupting at times, eagerly listening in on snippets of conversation at other moments. They formed a pack of nine that would appear suddenly in the dining room, and then disappear outdoors or downstairs depending on their engagement in the activity they had created together. Despite the fact that the kids spanned an age range of nearly ten years, they seemed to figure out a flow of interaction together. They encouraged each other, regulated each other, and managed disagreements reasonably well on their own until the bedtime blues turned the younger ones cranky and upset. In many ways it is a scene that has unfolded throughout the ages as families have gathered from caves to castles, from mud-roofed farmhouses to split-ranch suburban homes. We all mix together - children, parents, grandparents, friends - to laugh, play, learn, swap stories, and to nurture one another’s souls.
This traditional mixing of generations and ages has somehow become the “alternative” in education. Like so many throughout history, I spent my early childhood in a series of one-room school houses in which (in the words of family friend David Luce) “you learned from the older kids…” as much as you did from the teacher. I don’t think the era of the “Three R’s” needs to be overly romanticized, but we have found at Randolph that the communal mixing of ages continues to be an incredibly fruitful experience for our students.
Every Friday, for example, our 9/10/11s gather with our pre-K students to mentor them as they garden, hike, and explore our outdoor classroom together. These “Creek Buddies” are totally engaged with each other. The elders are stewards and guides, verbalizing and solidifying their knowledge of nature and science, caring for their wide-eyed charges. The young ones are just jazzed up to be engaged in exploration and conversation with their older partners. They pick up language, social skills, and wisdom as they build a relationship with someone who they never would have come in contact with in a “traditional” grade-leveled school.
This type of mixing of age groups happens quite naturally throughout Randolph. We don’t have grade levels. We mix students of all ages together with regularity and intentionality. We value building these type of relationships that span across age groups because they mirror the most natural and organic learning structure humans know: the interaction between friends, family, and community members of all ages that has been fascinating us, challenging us, informing us, entertaining us, and helping us grow our intellect and imagination forever.