Peer Tutoring

In a blog I read a few years ago, a rather angry mum tore strips off mothers of big families because "they use older children for babysitting" among other untrue and misunderstood things. It was a petty rant, really. The one comment that stuck with me was the complaint that mums of big families use older children for babysitting.

I'm a mother of seven amazing children and I am a qualified primary school teacher. I'm going to let you in on a little secret: children working with children in different age groups is very good for them! Now, I know what you're saying: "Maya, the blogger that had a go at big families was having a go at mothers using older children to babysit younger children, not in regards to school!"

As part of my teacher training, it was suggested to us that having older children come into the classroom and help younger ones learn to read was a brilliant concept. I totally agree! But why? Why is having older children help younger children so beneficial?

My evidence lies in what I've seen happen with my children's development over the years. With my first two children, they learned to walk and talk about the same time as their peers at the same age level. However, from my third child onward, my toddlers have developed skills in talking as well as social skills such as sharing, taking turns and social conventions such as waving goodbye.

A speech pathologist who attended our mothers' group agreed with me - that older children provide a 'stepping stone' to skills that adults can't.


With that evidence, I have to ask the question:

Why is it considered 'normal' to have children grouped according to ages, often restrictively so?

If we think about it, back in tribal times, families lived together and children learned, played and grew together - no matter what their age was. There are clear benefits to children playing and learning with children of ALL ages.

Now. The babysitting accusation.

Firstly, my older children love their youngest siblings. Honestly. Mr Man (12) and Sparkles (10) simply dote on the younger two, The Hurricane (3) and Edie (14 months). They ask me if they can hold them. When I ask if they can hold the baby occasionally, Mr Man says, "Of course!". I've always delighted in babies and I think they've copied this attitude. The whole family exults over everything new that Edie does (or laughs at her latest cheeky trick!).

Secondly, I pay my older children to babysit on occasion. This is part of training for life - they're going above and beyond normal family duties, so they are compensated for their time. They always do it under supervision while I'm in the house having my nanna nap for an hour, teaching another child or doing some gardening. They enjoy it!

Thirdly, my older children are learning valuable skills whilst helping their younger siblings. Patience, tolerance and the consideration of others is the biggest one. The little ones can't do what they can do and so they have to learn to change their expectations and the way they do things with their siblings. I often talk about what to do for little ones while I'm helping a little one so Mr Man and Sparkles know what to do as well.

I do know some people who have had to look after their younger siblings and haven't been given the choice or appreciated for it. This, of course, is wrong.....and what I think the blogger I mentioned was talking about in her rant. 

However, I think it's a natural, vital and helpful skill for children to learn to interact and engage with people of all ages.

Teachers call it 'peer tutoring'. But us mums can call it 'life learning'. Don't be afraid to encourage it between your children!


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