Features of Multi-Age Practice and Adult-Child Interactions: An Exploratory Study from Hungary

Teszenyi, Eleonora (2023). Features of Multi-Age Practice and Adult-Child Interactions: An Exploratory Study from Hungary. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00015a16


It is well-documented that multi-age grouping is a frequently implemented organisational strategy in early childhood settings across the world. So far, it has received mixed reviews based on the developmental outcomes for children. However, there is relatively little known about the complexities of teaching and learning in such environments and how the approach is experienced by its participants. Given the high and growing prevalence of multi-age groups nationally in Hungary, this study set out to explore what features characterise multi-age practice, both reported and enacted, with a sharp focus on the nature of adult-child interactions.

Taking a social-constructivist stance, the study employed a mixed method design involving 28 participants. Practice was observed, using semi-structured observations and researcher field notes, and views were elicited by employing the Q-method, which consisted of rank ordering 48 statements and follow-up semi-structured interviews. A phased approach to analysis generated four practice clusters and four reported shared views. Corroborative analysis of the two sets of findings focussed on how group age-diversity was harnessed and/or forgone. As the study’s unique contribution, four classes of multi-age practice, and correspondingly, four kinds of adult-child interactions were identified offering a taxonomy of multi-age practice.

Findings interpreted using the bio-ecological Person-Process-Context-Time model (Bronfenbrenner and Morris, 2006) indicate that both the ‘family-centred relational’ and the ‘adult-led intentional’ practice consistently harnessed age-diversity potentially leading to generative proximal processes. This was far outweighed by the ‘adult-centred incidental’ and the ‘confused homogenising’ practice, where the potential of multi-agedness was mostly forgone, potentially leading to inverse proximal processes. In the absence of explicit policy on group organisation in Hungarian Early Childhood Education and Care, the study points to imperatives for national systems of pre-service training and a widely embedded and nuanced understanding of a multi-age educational philosophy through appropriate in-service training, so enhancing early childhood practice.

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