I’ve been thinking a lot about the next direction to head, the next place to put my energy, the next place I might find my niche, my path, where my inner self will meet the outer world. Summer time and the living is easy, and all the vacation and time with school age kids, even the not so relaxing bits of the overwhelming scheduling and record keeping tasks of making our mixed age, year round family day care program work, bring me to the irreducible conclusion that the thing I have cared about the longest, about which I feel most passionately, for which I will put in the greatest effort and refuse the least compromise is the right to live and learn in mixed age groupings.

We work very hard to make this a reality in our family day care. One example that hit home today is that we have 32 children enrolled throughout the year in our program, which has a licensed capacity of ten. This doesn’t mean we are ever overenrolled, it just means we have kids with us on many part time arrangements, from morning child care and homeschooling support to after school care to school vacation care for school age children. At the park today I was talking to other providers about the overwhelming amount of paperwork and record keeping we have at this time of year, updating enrollment forms, directories, food program forms, files. The other providers have about 12 or 13 kids enrolled at a time. No wonder we feel overwhelmed. But we value our mix of ages so much we put in the effort it takes, and risk the financial losses we may incur if we don’t fill the many part time slots that are required to make this sort of program work, with morning and full day child care, after school care, school year only and full year and summer only and even summer daily slots to allow our alumns and siblings to keep on returning as they get older, and to join their younger siblings, keeping families together and our age span as broad as it can be.

When I think of how I can fight for the right to live and learn in mixed age settings, I wonder how many places there are in the world these days where older kids can care for babies and toddlers and preschoolers, where playing school with younger kids gives older kids the chance to try out being teacher, where kids can maintain relationships with younger and older kids over time, in our program for sometimes ten or twelve years, where siblings can be together, share friends and playtime and meals, while parents are at work.

When I thought of expanding or shifting from family day care to something else, whether day care center, after school program, or camp, or independent or charter School, the inability to do this legally while maintaining a mixed age group held me back. I love working with the full range, see it as our nitch and our gift to our kids and families to provide a place for true, wide, mixed age grouping. I hate to see it go, as much as I would love to serve more families, to serve a wider socioeconomic range of people, to work with a slightly larger staff, to provide more slots of high quality programming to my community, to create more jobs, I can’t give up the mixed age grouping model, including kids under four, which even the Sudbury model schools can’t do, though they allow more age mixing than almost any other model of which I have heard, where students from four to adulthood and staff to mix freely throughout the day.