A Visitor from the North: or, I ramble about my sweet niece, mixed age groups, and direct instruction

I’ve always loved mixed age groups. There is something beautiful watching an older child hold an infant, or play with a toddler. I have memories recess in seventh grade watching a classmate give piggy-back rides to the kindergarteners instead of joining the basketball game that the older students had started. These fond memories fuel my love for family child care.

Our playmates recently have all been around the same age as Gigi so it was a treat when KJ (one of my amazing, beautiful nieces, and the most amazing ten year old I know) and her family came down to visit during spring break. She and Gigi have developed a very close relationship over the past few months through the wonder of video calls. KJ has a unique gift of interacting with young children and making them feel equal to her.


Cutthroat Kitchen features often in our chats so the girls decided to create some sweet treats with playdough. It soon verged from a contest to a lesson in playdough techniques. Each step was modeled with patience and gentle guidance from KJ.


The finished products from the cupcake challenge

I am often asked how I justify direct instruction when I am an advocate for child-led exploration and minimal intervention from adults. To be honest I don’t have a firm answer. Direct instruction is a filled with murky waters where the adult needs to make  their own judgement call after observation and reflection. KJ was very intuitive in her lessons with Gigi. She didn’t demand exact replication or labeled Gigi’s attempts as wrong. There was less of an agenda on KJ’s part and more of just talking through the steps she was taking, and supporting Gigi when she asked for it.

The self-proclaimed twins

Our spring break was brightened with the arrival of KJ (and the rest of the family, we love you too!!). We will keep the memories and lessons we learned in our hearts and mind for a long time to come.


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