Preschoolers develop best when grouped closer in age, psychology professor says

When preschoolers are grouped in classrooms with a wide range of ages, their development suffers, says Gettysburg College Psychology Prof. Arlen Moller.

Moller is studying how preschool children are influenced by their peers. Together with colleagues at the Children's Institute and University of Rochester, Moller conducted a longitudinal study investigating how the range of age in preschool classrooms influences children's development. Among the 70 preschool classrooms included in their study, the age-range in some classrooms was as narrow as less than one year, while in other classrooms more than 2.7 years separated the oldest from the youngest child.

The results of their study indicate that greater variability in age was related to slower cognitive, motor, and social development. More specifically, several tests revealed that the negative influence of greater variability in age within classrooms was magnified for older children. In other words, when preschool classrooms are characterized by a wide range in age, children do worse, and older children suffer most. These findings remained significant when controlling factors such as class size, quality, and socioeconomic status, and may be controversial given that a number of experts in preschool education have recently expressed support for more mixed-age preschool classrooms.

The findings from this study were published in November 2008's issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology.

Moller's research interests are in human motivation, specifically intrinsic motivation. His research often relates intrinsic motivation to the satisfaction of universal psychological needs, such as for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Some of his work has focused on why making choices can be fatiguing versus vitalizing. Moller earned a bachelor's degree from Cornell University, and a doctorate from the University of Rochester.

Contact: Kendra Martin, director of media relations

Posted: Fri, 19 Dec 2008

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